Note: George Desaire THE TENTH GENERATION OF De Serre
Son of Maxim Desaire
Father of Larry Desaire
Born - September 15, 1908 in Richland Twp near Damar, Kansas in Rooks County.
Died - November 29, 1954, heart attack at St. Anthony's Hospital, Hays, Kansas.
Married - Amy Garringer on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1931 at Justice of Peace, Courthouse at Hill City, Kansas. Marriage blessed in St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Damar, Kansas January 4, 1932. Amy was born August 4, 1912 Laverne, in Beaver County Oklahoma.
George Desaire and Amy Garringer were introduced to each other by "Dad" Plante, a friend of George from Damar, Kansas. Amy says George was "a good catch" meaning he was a handsome man. After a short dating period, they decided to get married on Christmas Eve on December 24, 1931. They eloped to Hill City, Kansas to get the probate judge out of bed in the middle of the night. After the civil ceremony, they drove back to Amy's parents' home near Webster, Kansas to tell her folks of the midnight wedding. Amy's mother, Pearl Garringer, lectured the newly married couple until the wee hours of the morning with a "tongue lashing" because Pearl was dissatisfied because she felt George was a "drunken Frenchman" and a "damn Catholic". Pearl Garringer was a non-practicing Baptist.
The next morning, Phillip Desaire, George's brother drove to the Garringer homestead in a Model A Ford and brought the newly married couple to George's parents home in Damar, Kansas. The wrath of Blanche Desaire was even worse than the wrath of Pearl Garringer! Blanche Desaire learned George had married outside the Catholic faith by a Justice of the Peace and his new wife was an "outsider". This term loosely meant anyone other than a French Canadian Catholic.
Later that day Blanche Desaire would visit the local Catholic parish priest to confess the Desaire family disgrace. The priest decided that George would have to stand before the communion rail in St. Joseph Catholic Church and beg forgiveness from his Lord and fellow parishioners for taking a non-Catholic woman for a wife.
I would have loved to have seen my father, standing before the parish begging forgiveness for his wayward discretions. George, being a shy bashful man at the time, had a difficult time standing before the community begging forgiveness, but he did and the priest agreed to perform a second Catholic wedding ceremony in the Church to bless the marriage of George and Amy.
The day of the church blessing of their marriage ceremony was January 4, 1932. George and Amy wanted to celebrate their wedding with their friends. So they enlisted the services of a couple local musicians to hold a wedding dance in the Damar town hall. The guests were invited and the local priest showed up at the celebration telling the friends of the couple that he was "shutting down the celebration." The friends were told that if they celebrated this event that they may be excommunicated from the Church. George loaded Amy and his friends into cars and trucks and moved the party to Bogue, Kansas at the pool hall where an enjoyable evening was continued by all except the parish priest.
"Tough times bred tough people" the saying goes -- George and Amy were bred from tough stock. Nothing ever came easy for any of the Desaires. George's first job was laying railroad track as a section hand for the Union Pacific railroad at Zurich, Kansas for $2.50 per day's wages! This track would lead to a railroad line linking western Kansas farming communities with grain markets throughout the world through the Chicago Board of Trade. In those early days a railroad was of tremendous value to a community. It meant that vital supplies could be brought in quickly and cheaply. On the other hand, whatever products a community might have for sale could be shipped out to markets where these products were needed. No wonder that states, counties and settled communities offered inducements of great value to railroad companies in an effort to get them to build railroads where they were desperately needed.
George and Amy's first home was the non-insulated railroad boxcar with a pot-bellied coal cooking stove. They used discarded wooden orange crates for chairs and a rough hewn wooden plank nailed to the side of the boxcar for a dining table. Amy gathered white linen flour sacks and sewed little red hair ribbons on the sacks for a decorative table cloth and curtains for the newly weds' first home.
Amy was a school teacher in a one room country school at the time of their marriage. She had graduated from Webster High School in Webster, Kansas at the age of eighteen. George quit school after the seventh grade because he decided to pick corn rather than face his seventh grade English comprehensive exams. His family spoke Canadian French in the home and I doubt he could speak English before he started school.
Amy’s teacher encouraged Amy to finish high school so Amy could become a school teacher. Amy's teacher asked Al Garringer, Amy's father, if Amy could move into the teacher's home to finish her senior year of high school and take the preparation courses needed to become a school teacher. After Amy moved in with the teacher, the teacher took Amy to the doctor and Amy was diagnosed with malnutrition -- she had been starving to death living in her parent's home. Amy was bedridden for several weeks until she gained enough strength to finish her senior year of high school.
During her previous years of school, Amy remembers taking gravy or lard sandwiches to school because there was no other food in the house. Many of these "poor folk" sandwiches were thrown away on the three mile walk to school so fellow students would not ridicule her when others saw the type of sandwiches she brought to school.
Amy finished her senior year of high school and was awarded a Kansas State Normal Teaching Certificate to teach school in a one-room country school house. This teaching certificate was a treasured award for Amy and the Garringer family. Amy was the first of the Garringer and Livingston families to graduate from high school.
George Desaire began farming when he rented his mother farm north of Damar, Kansas. Blanche Desaire inherited this farm as a wedding gift from her father Mack Newell. Amy says, “We began to get a toehold in farming with the help of three of George’s little brothers - Leo, Joseph, and Alfred who worked their little tails off all summer for new school clothes for the fall term. (Not a very good wage scale but their folks thought that was good enough because “they were learning how to work”. Boy, did they ever learn how to work - with old machinery, and long late hours but it was all in a long summer’s education. I doubt if any kid today could endure the labor those kids put out, without too much complaining. They stayed at it until the last clod of dirt was turned.
Those were the days! At eight to ten years of age, my brother Adrain, we called him DD, started driving the tractor and working in the fields. DD and Amy worked in the fields, did farm chores, drove trucks, plowed acres and acres of wheat land. At ten or eleven years of age, Phyllis went along as she could drive as well as anyone else. Phyllis could cook almost as well as her mother and she did most of the housework and cared for Larry. She was a perfect little mother. All in all we were a very, very busy family.
Soon thereafter George bought his first homestead. George and Amy borrowed money from the Farmers State Bank at Bogue, Kansas to purchase their first farm. The Farmers State Bank still exists today, still providing farm and crop loans to grandsons of my father's generation who till the soil of Richland Township of Rooks County Kansas. I believe this shows the integrity and the perseverance of the honest men and women who still inhabit this land. Some wise man once said, "No nation is any stronger than the men who own and till it's soil."
George and Amy picked a beautiful acreage to build their legacy. This beautiful farm contained 320 acres of lush, buffalo grass pasture; black fertile topsoil where my parents raised many profitable wheat crops; and a lush spring fed creek meadow where white-faced Hereford cows gave birth to energetic baby calves.
George would borrow money to buy a piece of land by mortgaging the property and giving up title to the ground to the banker if he could not repay the loan. He would raise one wheat crop and pay off the loan. He then would buy a second piece of land and mortgage all the ground he owned to the banker until he harvested his next wheat crop to pay off the mortgage. In five years, George and Amy bought and paid off the mortgages on 880 acres of prime Rooks County Kansas farm ground and built a herd of 100 head of white-faced Hereford cattle. It took five outstanding wheat crops in a row to accomplish this task.
He raised white-faced Hereford cattle, hogs, chickens, and a milk cow or two to keep the family supplied with milk and fresh cream. Extra cream was sold at the Burton Creamery in Damar, Kansas or traded for groceries at the General Store. Cattle and hogs were shipped on the railroad to the cattle yards in Kansas City for slaughter or to local sale barns in the area. Vegetables and wild fruits picked down by the Solomon River were harvested from the family garden and canned and stored in the family fruit and storm cellar.
The sturdy three room Desaire farm house still stands today although the house has been turned into a shelter for black Angus cattle and the home of raccoons, skunks, pole cats, and prairie rattlers that now roam the farmyard. The tall red milking hay barn that once stored sweet prairie hay, where milk cows gladly gave up their milk and rich cream has since been demolished by a western Kansas tornado. The windmill that pumped icey cold water from deep below the prairie sod, still freely cartwheels in the Kansas breeze bringing cold, clear water to the prairie surface to quench the thirst of all who visit the well. This amazing water well has never been known to go dry even in the driest years. This well was found by "Dad" Plante using a forked willow stick cut from the willows growing along the creek in the meadow while witching for water for the spot to drill the well that would serve the needs of generations to come.
At the time of George's death his land stretched from what is now the Webster Dam in Rooks County, Kansas; west to the eighty acres of ground that Frank Desaire homesteaded; northwest to the George Desaire homestead two and a half miles north of Damar; southwest to a quarter section of ground once farmed by Hobson Desair located west and south of the St. Joseph Church cemetery where George is laid to rest; and west to another quarter section of ground located southeast of Hill City, Kansas in Graham County, Kansas.
Six weeks previous to George's death in 1954, he mortgaged all his farm ground and bought another quarter section of ground from the Howe Luck family west of Bogue, Kansas. The Luck family agreed to reclaim the property following George's untimely death.
Three children were born into the George and Amy (Garringer) Desaire family. All were born with the help of a mid-wife attending the births of first Phyllis, then Adrian, and finally Larry. The nearest doctor was sixteen miles away and the nearest hospital fifty miles away. It was unthinkable to go to the hospital just to deliver a baby. Old Dr. Peterson, from Plainville, Kansas would drive his car to the Desaire farmstead and sleep in the car until it was time for his delivery services. With the help of a mid-wife he would deliver the newborn baby under the light of a coal oil lamp using water boiled over the pot-bellied heating and cooking stove.
Amy says, “In 1934 my daughter, Phyllis was born. Her baby days were pure joy to me as I felt like a child with a beautiful baby doll to love and play with. In 1937 along came DD, the most beautiful baby boy any Mom ever had. There was another blessed surprise in our family in 1945. Although I had put all my baby clothes in storage and had started thinking of myself as a matron of 32 years, I started feeling “kinda queesey” in the morning and not very hungry most of the time. Suddenly it dawned on me, Actually I would swear I was pregnant - and I was! There never could have been a happier family when Larry came along in March 1945. It took some doing for DD to understand that his Momma was not sick that first morning after he and Phyllis saw the doctor’s car parked in our yard when the school bus carried them to school. They had spent the night with neighbors while all the excitement at our house of a new born baby was developing. George drove to school and brought DD and Phyllis back home to greet their new baby brother and the sight of their little faces is a memory I will never ever forget!"
In the spring of 1945 George and his neighbor Fremont Burton purchased two grain harvesting combines and trucks in order to make money custom harvesting other farmers' wheat crops. Money earned would be used to pay for the new equipment. They loaded the trucks and headed south for Texas in June to follow the ripening hard-red winter wheat harvest north as the crop ripened all the way to the Canadian border.
At three and a half months of age, Larry lay next to his mother, Amy, as she drove a farm truck heading north toward the Canadian border following this hard working French Canadian wheat harvesting crew. George had stopped in Kansas on his harvest run to harvest his own wheat crop. When George and Fremont Burton's wheat was harvested and put in the elevator for storage, they loaded up the trucks, combines, and their families including a six week old new born baby boy and headed north to finish the harvest run. I had the distinct privilege of being the youngest "man" on that harvesting crew.
Amy's days were spent trucking grain out of the wheat fields to local elevators while hauling around a new-born baby boy on her hip as she cooked the meals for the harvest crew over an open camp-fire. She slept in a canvas Army tent for shelter, keeping her baby warm and dry during infrequent summer rain and hail storms. Most days in the harvest fields clouds of dust would be flying. She tried to protect me from dust storms on the prairie with a wet handkerchief placed over my nose to try to ward off dust pneumonia. I became sick after a few weeks on the road and Amy had to find local boarding houses where she could rent a room for the night for the two of us. Amy "ram rodded" that harvest crew and a sick baby boy all the way to within thirty miles of the Canadian border. We stayed on that profitable harvest run until the winter snows began to fly in late September in North Dakota.
Watching a winter storm approach across the prairie, Amy turned to George and said,
"Larry's pneumonia is getting worse. It's time to go home and let Dr. Peterson take over. It's too cold up here for this baby with dust pneumonia. It is time to go home -- I'll walk if I have to!"
George had pushed the harvest crew and his family to their physical limits in order to harvest as many wheat acres as possible. He was very reluctant to shut down the profitable harvest run. Finally George turned to the crew and said, "Boys, our cook is leaving us. That's it. It's time to go home," as the winter storm approached from the mountains. The tired, wandering French Canadian harvest crew loaded the equipment and turned south headed back towards their families and homes in Kansas
I believe my father, George Desaire was an organizer who taught other men how to survive in "tough times". George always hired a large working crew because he knew other families were short of food during winter as there was few opportunities for men to earn a living during hard times. Money from wages paid by my father bought groceries and clothing for many French Canadian families in Damar, Kansas during hard times. George was a tough man to work for -- if you didn't work you walked home! He made sure other men knew who was responsible for doing the physical labor and he always made sure there was a profit left over for himself, the man who paid the wages.
George would hire his younger brothers to do the farm work that he could not get Amy or his oldest son Adrian to do. He paid his brothers' wages in food or commodities instead of hard cash. He always said if he paid them in cash they would just use it to buy whiskey instead of feeding their families. He always drove a hard bargain -- he always negotiated a way for the other man to do the dirty work and the hard labor. When all else failed, he hollered, cussed, and demanded his wife and children do what he did not want to do himself. "There was never any job too tough for his family to do by themselves," seemed to be his motto for his family.
Life was hard on the Desaire farm. It was not just luck that raised five outstanding wheat crops in a row. Many men believed it was unusual for a farmer to hit five good wheat crops in a row. This was the days before intensive crop management techniques that today help farmers overcome the effects of drought, grasshoppers, and hail from Mother Nature's fury. How did George raise five good wheat crops in a row? Was it luck or innovation?
George was a gambler and an innovative farmer. He was one of the first farmers to plant a crop of soybeans in Rooks County Kansas. He was one of the first farmers to plant lespedeza and clover to enrich and fertilize the soil. This was the first attempt to fertilize the native sod to increase crop yields. He was one of the first farmers to terrace land to control soil erosion from heavy rains and high winds.
George was one of the first farmers in the area to plant a new variety of hard red winter wheat called Red Chief. It shelled hard but it was a tremendous grain producer. All the harvested grain was scooped with a shovel by hand from the grain truck into the granary. Wheat grain was kept for seed to plant the next wheat crop.
Wheat flour ground at the Stockton, Kansas flour mill was purchased in fifty pound white linen sacks so homemade bread could be baked daily. The white linen sacks were saved and sewn into shirts for the men folk; skirts, blouses, and dresses for the ladies of the house; or pillow cases, curtains, or bedspreads for the home on the foot peddle powered Singer sewing machine. Amy was a very good seamstress and she baked some of the most delicious homemade bread in the territory!
Amy spent her days attending to the family and doing all the farm chores. She would carry water in five gallon buckets a quarter mile up the hill from the well in the pasture to water the butcher hogs on the farm. There was no well in the yard and no running water in the house. Water was caught in an underground cistern where food was lowered in a five gallon bucket on a rope to keep perishable food from spoiling. She washed and scrubbed clothes by hand on a washboard in the wash house in water heated over a coal oil fired stove. In the beginning the stove was fired by "cow patties" gathered in bushel baskets by the children out in the cow pasture. Sometimes corn cobs were burned following corn harvest.
Soap for washing clothes was made from rendering the fat carved from a butcher hog, adding lye to the mix, then allowing the liquid to cool and dry. It was then cut into bars for personal soap, soap for washing clothes, and cleaning soap for around the barn and house. Beef and hog tallow were also saved to be rendered for fuel for lamps and candle making.
With no electricity or running water in the house, the family toilet was a wooden outhouse located over a hole dug in the back yard. Toilet tissue had not been invented yet. The pages from a Sears and Roebuck catalog or soft corncobs were used and were thought to work just fine. Baths were taken once a week whether you needed one or not. Baths were taken sitting in a tin washtub in the visiting room in front of the heating stove.
There were no power tools on the farm. It took a lot of sweat, willpower and muscle to get the farm chores done. Cows were milked by hand by bringing the cows into the barn and catching them in the milking stall. You then squatted down beside the cow on a one-legged milk stool squeezing the milk bucket between your knees trying to keep the cow from stepping into the milk bucket. One of the cows favorite tricks was to swish her tail around and slap you up side of the head with her dung soaked tail. Certain cows were kickers, and chains had to be applied to both back legs to keep them from kicking the milker and the milk bucket. Of course all the cats on the farm had to gather during milking time to get a squirt of milk for a reward for catching all the mice and rats on the farm.
The milk was taken to the wash house where the cream separator was located. You poured the raw milk into the top of the separator and then turned the hand crank. This spun the milk around separating the milk from the cream. The cream was put into a cream can and delivered to the Burton Creamery in Damar, Kansas or traded for groceries at the General Store.
All the farm animals were fed by hand every day come rain or shine. Baby calves born in a Kansas winter blizzard were carried into the farm house to lay in front of the roaring fire to thaw out! I got my first heifer calf this way. I named her "Frozen Ears" because she lost her ears to frostbite on a frozen winter night after being born in a snow bank. She later died from a rattlesnake bite giving birth to her first baby calf. All stories did not have happy endings on the Desaire farm.
Amy worked long hours to keep the hungry men fed on the farm. During wheat harvest, everyone would be up at the crack of dawn. Amy would be in the kitchen frying eggs and smoked cured ham from the meat house; flipping hot cakes to be soaked in homemade maple syrup, surrounded by the smell of steaming hot Folgers coffee brewing in the "never go empty" coffee pot on the stove. She was used to cooking for six to seven hired men who made up the harvest crew. She would then wash all the dishes and begin her day by baking homemade bread for the dinner and evening meals.
I can still recall the sights of Amy working the bread dough with flour up to her armpits and splotches of white dusty flour in her coal raven black hair. The mound of dough being shaped into loaves was always a sight to behold. Watching the dough rise in the bread pans was very interesting to a boy too young to attend school with his older brother and sister. She would pop snow white dough into the oven and an hour later golden brown baked bread would appear with all the aroma of a New York city bakery in the middle of Amy's simple country kitchen. I will always remember getting the first hot baked roll from the oven smeared heavy with homemade butter from the butter churn. It doesn’t ever get any better than that for a country boy.
Chickens were hatched from farm eggs. Amy would capture her oldest setting hens to hatch eggs in old discarded cream cans. A dozen fresh eggs gathered direct from the hen’s nests would be put into old cream cans laid on their sides. An old setting hen would be caught and a shoestring would be tied to one of her legs to the cream can. Fresh straw would be placed in the cream can and the eggs arranged in the nest. The hen would then be locked in the cream can except for a short period of time each day for feed and water. The setting hen had to remain in that cream can until baby chicks broke out of the eggshells.
Fried chicken was the harvest crew's favorite noon time meal. Up to sixteen chickens a day would be eaten by the hungry field hands. After Amy put the bread into the oven for baking, she would go into the farm yard with her deadly "chicken catching" machine. This machine was a long stiff “#9” wire with a hook on the end. It was used to snatch the legs of chickens as they ran in the yard. Many chickens ran for their lives when Amy entered the chicken yard with her chicken snatching machine! It was my job to keep "rounding up the chickens" to keep them close to Amy so she could snag them with her "chicken catching" machine.
After snatching the chicken by the leg, their necks would be wrung. They were dropped in boiling water so feathers could be quickly pulled off. Then they were gutted and cleaned. The entrails were fed to the surviving chickens and cats. I spent many an hour racing my tricycle through the chicken yard chasing chickens so that my favorite tomcat, Kitty McGee, the famous mouse catcher on the Desaire farm would get the choicest morsels of chicken guts. The slowest chickens in the yard got quite a few broken legs being run over by my tricycle. Maybe this is why Amy was so successful in catching chickens with her simple chicken catching machine -- I slowed them down so Amy could catch them.
The pieces of fresh chicken were rolled in crackers or flour and dropped into rendered hot hog lard and fried to a crispy golden brown in Amy's favorite black iron skillet. She added fluffy mountains of mashed potatoes and browned giblet chicken gravy, fresh homemade golden brown bread from the oven spread heavy with homemade churned butter. The men washed down this delicious meal with gallons of iced "sun tea" with ice taken from the ice cellar from ice chopped from the spring fed creek before the spring ice melt and stored in the ice cave wrapped in blankets and covered with fresh wheat straw from the harvested fields. Amy would load her "chuck wagon" 1949 Ford and head to the harvest fields to present the hungry men with a meal that was fit for a king! After all the men were fed, she would gather the dishes and head home to wash the pots and pans and dinnerware used to prepare and serve the meal. There were no paper plates in those days and the only automatic dish washing machine in the house was named Amy.
Often a wheat truck would pull into the yard before she finished washing the dinner dishes. She quickly would run for the granary to shovel the grain from the truck driven by her son Adrian. He was the twelve year old boy - the designated truck driver. The farm truck would hold two hundred and fifty bushels of wheat and all of it had to be scooped by hand from the truck into the granary.
I remember one hot July day when I was about four years of age, George had the harvest crew harvesting a wheat crop on the McCormick's quarter section of land near what is now the Webster Dam in Rooks County Kansas. A thunderstorm was developing very quickly and lightning soon struck a tree within a quarter mile of the combine and trucks. Soon baseball size hail began to fall from the storm cloud. George told me and my brother to get in the farm truck as the combines emptied the harvested grain into the farm truck. When the truck was loaded with about 250 bushels of wheat, George jumped in and headed the old red truck towards the farm hoping to drive away from the storm so the wheat would not get wet in the back of the truck. We headed west on a dirt road hoping to outrun the storm. I remember my brother looking over to the north side of the road and he asked George, "What is causing all that motion of the trees down there Dad?"
Sure enough it was a Kansas tornado coming out from the trees straight towards the road we were traveling on. George hit the accelerator and jammed the truck into second gear for more speed hoping to outrun the tornado! He jammed me down on the floor of the old truck and told my brother to hold on to the door as we raced the oncoming tornado! The tornado reached the road about the same time as the truck. The truck shook like a wet dog as the tornado sucked the wheat out of the back of truck and up into the air in a swirling mess of dirt, grass, weeds, and anything not permanently tied down to the earth. By the grace of God we survived and George kept his foot to the metal and raced that old red wheat truck for home.
Amy watered the hogs, milked the cows, fed and watered the chickens and gathered the eggs from the mite infested chicken house. Many times I can remember being chased from the chicken house by the meanest Red Rock rooster in Rooks County Kansas! This mean old sucker would fly and land on my shoulder and peck my head! My sister and brother nicknamed me "Pecker head" after one such vicous attack.
Following the afternoon livestock chores, Amy would prepare the supper meal by coal oil lantern light, wash the dishes, and finally lay her head to rest at 10:30 PM after all the daily farm and family chores were done. Even with all the hard labor she performed on the farm, Amy fondly remembers those "glory days" on the farm building a family legacy. The crippling arthritis she suffered with in her late years, told another side of the story.
The only vacations ever taken were to Amy's relatives -- her brother, Charles "Bud" Garringer, and the Alvin and Audrey York family, her sister, in Missouri. Many times word would come in a letter that the York family's cupboards were bare. George and Amy would load up the car with sacks of flour and beans, salted cured pork and canned beef, canned fruit and vegetables from the storm cellar, and quickly drive across Kansas Highway #36 to the state of Missouri or into Nebraska in order to keep the Alvin York children from starving to death during the winter.
If the trip took place during the fall of the year, we would return to Kansas with baskets of ripe fruit, berries, and delicious watermelons that would be turned into fruit pies, jellies and jams. These delicacies were stored in the damp, musty, cobweb infested storm cellar cave. Many a time we captured a large bull snake enjoying the coolness of the cellar. I was told the snake protected the cellar from rats on the farm.
George Desaire was respected in his community. He was elected President of the Damar, Kansas School Board in 1945 and was responsible for getting a major addition built onto the existing school house. He was influential in keeping the St. Joseph nuns as teachers in school. The St. Joseph's nuns brought parochial school education to the parish of Damar in 1904 and stayed until 1977. The St. Joseph nuns started a convent in Concordia, Kansas in Cloud County Kansas in the late 1880's.
Rules and Regulations for Teachers in 1872
1. Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys, and trim wicks.
2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and scuttle of coal for the day's session.
3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of pupils.
4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.
5. After ten (10) hours in school, the teachers spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.
7. Each teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.
8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intentions, integrity, and honesty.
9. Teachers who perform their labors faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of 25 cents per week, providing the Board of Education approves. Average monthly salary for a male teacher was $40.20 and $31.50 a month for a female teacher in 1872.
In 1882 Rooks County Kansas had 745 male students enrolled and 770 female students enrolled in schools throughout the county. Graham County had 268 male students and 252 female students. Ellis County had 532 male students and 529 females students. Finally Trego County had 109 male students and 79 female students.
I remember the privilege of being taught by four St. Joseph nuns -- Sr. Margaret Marie, Sr. Maureen, Sr. Assisiam, and Sr. Mary Godfrey who was my wife's aunt. When we first got married, Sr. Godfrey gave my wife the following directions:
"When you get your first classroom teaching assignment, don't smile until Christmas." Another of Sr. Godfrey's famous sayings was, "If Betty had not married Larry, he surely would be in prison by now."
On one occasion I asked Sr. Godfrey, "Sister, do you think you will go to heaven when you die?" She thought for just a second, "I surely hope so." Jokingly I told her, "If you are going to go to heaven, I do not know if I want to go there." Sr. Godfrey was a beautiful person and I loved her dearly.
Leo Desaire, George's younger brother, told the story of all of his brothers looking up to and admiring George and Amy because George always had some work for the boys to do. The Desaire brothers could not ask Maxim for advice because, "Poppa was always drunk."
The story of George and Amy would not be complete without the heartaches of the time. Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer in the late 1940's. She went to Savannah, Missouri to a special cancer hospital. Exavier Desaire had been treated there for throat cancer in the mid-1940's. Amy had her breast removed and all the muscles and lymph nodes under her armpit. It took almost two years of daily exercising running her fingers up and down a wall to get her arm raised high enough above her head to brush her hair. Amy survived this bout with cancer. The cancer flared up again in her other breast in the late 1950's. Doctors again amputated her remaining breast. We always said Amy was a tough old gal -- she stared cancer straight in the eye twice and survived. Thank God, miracles do sometimes happen to good people.
George had a drinking problem just like his father. Today he would be considered an alcoholic. I remember in the late 1940's he had been off the bottle not drinking for a period of six weeks. I remember George always being angry, hollering at us kids, and cussing his wife. After one such session, Amy went into the bedroom and returned with a half pint of whiskey she had hidden in the dresser drawer. He grabbed the bottle and threw it through the living room window barely missing me, his five year old son standing by the window. He jumped into his car and left for the three day drunk! Amy boarded up the window with a cardboard box to keep out the freezing winter cold as George drank up all the whiskey he could get his hands on to spite his wife.
George's drinking problem got so bad at one time, Amy thought about divorcing him. He was drinking heavily and the cubbards were bare. Every summer Amy canned vegetables and any berries we could pick off wild plum bushes on the farm near the creek. George always butchered a hog and a homegrown steer calf. Without refrigeration, the meat had to be smoked or salted in a crock or it would spoil. Those provisions were running short and George was drinking heavy. George never gave Amy any money, I guess thinking that if she had no money, she had to stay with him and do all the work chores on the farm. The desparate situation Amy was in, caused her to think about divorcing George but she had no idea how she would feed her three children.
You have to realize back in those days, jobs were few and far between. In the country, there were no jobs for women, except to stay at home, do the farm chores, and raise the children. George took the family car with him when he went on a drunk. Amy lived two and a half miles from town where the only grocery store was. There were no credit cards in those days. George did not allow her to write checks on the Desaire farm account at the Farmers State Bank at Bogue, Kansas and that was another eight miles away. Amy thought about how she would make a living if she left George. The only thing she thought she could do to feed her children, was possibly to teach school if she could contact the Rooks County School Superintendent. We had no telephone on the farm and at that time there was no internet, or cell phones. The only contact with the outside world was the US postal system. Amy needed three cents to mail a letter. She searched the house to find enough money for a three cent stamp. There was none to be found! Finally she pulled the linoleum back near the kitchen stove and she found three old copper pennies. She picked up those copper pennies, stared at them, and began to cry. A desparate woman in a desparate situation. She pulled herself together, and in her best imatation of country music singer Patsy Cline, she "stood by her man" whether he deserved it or not!
George was an alholic and a heavy gambler. He probably used his gambling winnings to pay off part of the mortgages on the land he accumulated. I have heard many stories of men who drank rot gut whiskey, partied, and gambled with my father. Stories of "shooting craps" in Nicodemus, Kansas, a black settlement dating back to the days following the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves.
In the 1870s former slave Benjamin "Pap" Singleton envisioned thriving midwestern communities populated by African Americans. Singleton placed his hopes for a better life on a colonizing campaign he directed toward residents of Kentucky and Tennessee. He successfully distributed his message through African American newspapers.
Two hundred Black settlers responded to "Pap" Singleton's campaign, moving west to Nicodemus in Graham County, Kansas. They completed their long journey from Lexington, Kentucky, to the central Kansas plains in 1878. By 1886 the community supported three Black newspapers.
Since 1876 Black newspapers have been published in Kansas representing twenty-two communities and eighteen counties. The first publication encouraged Black voters to participate in the upcoming election. The paper went out of business the week after the election. Over the years many other newspapers have sprung up and faded during election years urging Blacks to exercise their right to vote in order to preserve their hard-won freedom.
The Colored Citizen, a Topeka newspaper, promoted education of African Americans. As early as 1878 editor William Lewis Eagleson and other publishers spoke out against segregation in schools. A proponent of colonization, The Colored Citizen encouraged Black migration in the late
1870s and provided a unique message of realism. "Never leave home for Kansas without having some money over and above what it takes to pay your transportation," Eagleson warned. "For the old men and women chances for great success in Kansas are not flattering."
George hired many black men including Donald Moore and 'Boo" Switzer to work on his farm located a few miles south of Nicodemus, Kansas. George participated in daily poker games at the Desbien Farm Supply store, big money poker games with wealthy gamblers from Norton, Kansas at the Bogue, Kansas snooker hall, or at the Bogue Garage that was run by a black man named Huey Green. George also placed large bets on political elections, World Series games, and on local town team baseball games. I have always wondered how much of the farm ground he accumulated was won in five card draw poker games or on a single throw of the dice in the hard packed dirt of a back alley in a neighboring town.
My favorite gambling story concerned the Damar baseball team that George managed and coached. He helped organize the Damar City Baseball Association that developed the Damar baseball diamond with the first electrically lighted playing field in the area. Electricity was supplied by the REA. Many baseball games were enjoyed by the community and hundreds of people came to the games for gambling and recreation purposes.
An important game was coming up with Hill City, Kansas that had a lot of money riding on the outcome of the game. George bet "the farm" on the hometown Damar team but hedged his bet by driving to Hays, Kansas to secretly recruit a former major league pitcher named Vern Leiker to pitch for the Damar team. Everything was kept secret until the night of the game. Vern Leiker arrived in town a few minutes before the game but he had pitched a nine inning game for Munjor, Kansas that same afternoon. He was tired and his arm was getting stiff and sore.
George said "a deal was a deal" meaning a man's word was his bond -- Vern Leiker had agreed to pitch a nine inning game for Damar on this date and he damn well was gonna head for the mound and fill his end of the bargain! George handed him the baseball and sent him to the mound. The Damar and Hill City teams battled scoreless inning after inning. Hits were hard to come by as both pitchers pitched their hearts out. Finally Damar pushed a single run across in the bottom of the eighth inning with a hit batter, a sacrifice bunt, a sacrifice fly, and a squeeze bunt.
Opening the ninth inning, Hill City loaded the bases on three hard hit line drive singles. George called time out and slowly walked to the mound to talk with his tiring pitcher. Vern Leiker had pitched 17 innings of baseball and he was definitely feeling the wear and tear on his body. Spectators saw something exchanged on the mound between George, the manager and Leiker, the tired pitcher. Leiker looked down at what George handed him. He pulled down hard on the bill of his baseball cap, tugged at his belt around his waist, and then threw his best fast ball of the night by the hitter!
"Strike One!" screamed the umpire!
Three Hill City hitters faced the screaming fast balls of the former major league pitcher and all three men failed! Vern Leiker struck out the side with the bases loaded -- the Damar town team won the game 1 - 0!
What took place on that pitching mound in the ninth inning between George the gambler and Leiker the former major league pitcher? The spectators in the stands thought George had "loaded up the baseball" throwing in a trick baseball. In those days before resin was used to get a better grip on the ball, many pitchers would secretly conceal the head of a sunflower in their hip pockets in order to get the stickiness from the plant on their fingers. This gave the pitcher an excellent grip on the ball for a tremendous curve ball. We have learned none of this was true -- George had simply walked to the mound and handed his pitcher $300.00 in cash with these instructions -- 'Strike out the side and let's go home!" Three hundred dollars was a lot of money in the 1940's, but George covered his word to the pitcher with the earnings he won from the gamblers that backed the losing Hill City team that night.
I remember George coming home from a gambling escapade with his plaid Mackinaw jacket soaked with blood, sneaking in the back door waking up Amy and me yelling for us to get dressed. We needed to leave immediately! We sneaked out like thieves in the middle of the night! George had cleaned out the gamblers playing five card stud poker. One of them pulled a gun and shot a hole in the Bogue pool hall poker table and slate flew through the air and sliced George's arm!
George screamed, "I'm shot!" as he kicked over the gas lamp, grabbed the money on the table, and dove through the window into the alley, ducking between the buildings losing the gamblers in the night while leaving a trail of crimson fresh blood in the snow.
In 1953, my sister Phyllis was getting married and Amy needed money to prepare for the wedding. George never allowed Amy to write any checks nor keep any money in the house except for the cream check for groceries. So needing money to finance the upcoming wedding, he left for a three day gambling junket. He returned with pockets full of money filling two gallon fruit jars with $10.00, $20.00, and $50.00 bills! He hid the money in the fruit cellar for safe keeping fearing the gamblers would return and rob our family.
This is the one story about George Desaire that will always be remembered by his family. Our family was living on the Desaire farm two and a half miles north of Damar, Kansas. He had just returned from a three day drinking and gambling spree late on a Saturday night. He got up Sunday morning and told me I should get dressed for Church and go sit in the car. I jumped into my clothes and got into the front seat of the car. I feared if I wasn't sitting in the car when he got ready to leave I would be left at home by myself.
While sitting in the car I realized I needed to use the bathroom in the worst way possible. I did not want to leave the car because the out house was way behind the house. I looked on the bottom of the floorboard of the car and found several empty Seven-up bottles. George would mix Seven-up and Old Crow whiskey together when he was drinking. What's a five year old scared boy to do, but use one of the Seven-up bottles to relieve himself in. I placed the half full bottle on the floor of the car. Dad got into the car, looked at the Seven-up bottle standing on the floor, and decided it was a mixed drink in a bottle he had mixed the night before. He tipped the bottle to his lips and chugged hard on the foul contents of the bottle! He coughed, gagged, and spit while Amy pounded him on his back while he tried to "get his wind". He just about died.
Dad did not learn a lesson from this experience. He continued to drink "rot gut" whiskey to the day he died. He would drink homemade whiskey made by Adolph Senesac who would lace his barley mash with lye to make the mash ferment faster. I always wondered if Adolph Seneca’s "white lightning" tasted any better than the cocktail I mixed for my father.
Amy got cancer in the late 1940's. After she returned from the hospital, we moved into the town of Damar, Kansas. Hobson Desair, George's first cousin, had built a new home just west of the house that my Great-grandfather, Frank Desaire had built.
Moving into the town of Damar, Kansas brought new technology to the Desaire household -- the telephone, electricity, natural gas heating, refrigeration, television, and in-door plumbing. A bathroom with a tub replaced the out-house and a tin tub in the middle of the floor. I can recall seeing the streets of the town being torn up while laboring men laid the tile for the sewer system. Those ditches looked so deep to a small boy playing on the top of the mounds of dirt that ran down the middle of every street in town.
The first time I saw the indoor toilet as we called it, I asked Mom,
"What's that white paper wrapped around an axle doing in the toilet?" I had never seen toilet paper. We had survived quite nicely on the farm using pages of the Sears and Roebuck catalog.
Our new home had three bedrooms, a bath, a living room, a kitchen, and a washroom. On the farm George and Amy slept in one room and we three children slept in another room. Now brothers and sisters had separate rooms. My brother and I slept in a single bed in the south bedroom. At times it was so cold in that room that frost would form on top of the blankets during the night from our breathing. The linoleum on the floor would hold frost until 9:00 AM. When your bare feet hit that floor, you got dressed in a hurry I can assure you.
Little furry critters shared our bedroom with us. Many a night we would lay in bed very, very still waiting for Mother Mouse to hop on the bed with her family of young ones. We would lay perfectly still until she jumped on the top of the blankets then we would see how high we could kick her toward the ceiling. My brother enjoyed this game -- I was scared to death!
We lived in this house until Dad died. George's lifestyle was one that seemed to encourage heart trouble. He was a heavy set man carrying up to 250 pounds on his 5'8" frame. His friends called him "Heavy" because of his size and shape. He ate fried meats all his life and demanded that his family eat at least an egg every day for breakfast. He smoked Lucky Strike, Camel, or Phillip Morris cigarettes all his life. He learned to roll his own cigarettes using Prince Albert tobacco under his mother's kitchen table before he started elementary school
He died of a heart attack in St. Anthony's hospital in Hays, Kansas in November of 1954 at the age of forty-six. He suffered from heart trouble, high blood pressure, and sugar diabetes while taking daily insulin shots for several years before he died.
Following George's death, my brother dropped out of high school and joined the Army with his cousin Gene Hamel. My sister, Phyllis had married Everett Knipp the year before and Amy and I moved to Salina, Kansas where Amy started beauty school to earn a living for herself and her nine year old son. After six months of training, Amy graduated and moved back to Damar, Kansas. Amy almost suffered a nervous breakdown, moving sixteen times in five years back and forth between the towns of Damar and Palco, Kansas. Times were tough trying to feed the two of us. Sometimes meals only consisted of peanut butter and syrup sandwiches or hot cocoa for the morning breakfast, but we always had something to eat in the house.
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