Montezuma, Kansas 67807
'I never expect a man to do as much work as I do myself. All I ask is that he do the very best he can.' This was one of Grandpa Rennie's favorite expressions. He was a hard taskmaster, but never an unreasonable one. A Scotch immigrant when he was but four, he had the complexity that many scots people have. He was always stern, perhaps a bit forbidding. And yet he was often moved to great generosity by illness, proverty or misfortune. He seldom displayed affection, and in money matters was conservative, and yet he had moments when his charity bloomed.
He lived in Nashville, Illinois when young. After a few years of marriage, his young wife died leaving him with two young children. At that time he operated an overland freight, in which he would use none but the finest horses available. His business was known as the 'Flying Freight'. His second marriage to Nancy Hall was only a few years old when he became restless, and yearned to join some of their relatives in Southeast Kansas. Some of their folks had already established homes, built churches by 1881. They wrote glowing accounts of the productivity of the land, the many opportunties to the people who lived in the area.
Even though Grandpa loved horses, he also loved the land, and had a great passion for machinery. Inventions were making great strides, and Grandpa was always willing to take advantage of the new things that came into being.
Once in Kansas, after a long, hard trip overland by wagon, he sheltered his growing family in a small shed. It was some time before that large, two story T-shaped house was completed. Shortly afterward, with his wisdom of putting things in their right order, he built on a small section of his land, a Baptist church. More often than not, the minister who served it, spent most of his time with the Rennies in the large old fashioned house.
Grandpa was always filled with the romance of threshing grain and had used his fine horses on a turn table that ran a large, cumbersome wooden separator. But steam power was a new thrill, and so in the mid nineties, he purchased a Gaar-Scott engine with a Peerless separator. His sons, then young men, were as eager to use the new equipment as he, and took turns staying home to attend to the chores of running the home place, and going with their dad as he threshed for the people of the neighborhood. The men working on the machine were at that time fed by the family that had grain to thresh. Cook shacks didn't come until some time later. The Community was always known for the fine tables that were set and hungry men took advantage of the good food offered.
In this area where the Rennies lived, not so far from Joplin, Mo., history has it that many outlaws operated in the vicinity. Everyone has heard the stories of The Benders, whose ingenious daughter Kate contrived ways of robbing and murdering tourists who stopped at their place for food and shelter. History has it that a fine meal was prepared, the victim was seated at the table before a large curtain. Before he finished his meal, he was hit on the head, mysteriously dropped into a trap door and nothing ever heard of him again. Nothing, that is, until that fateful day when Kates atrocities came to light. The place was searched, and the gory details of her wicked schemes unearthed.
A lesser band of outlaws roamed the area, their activities mostly local. They were the Murpheys. They had a sister who married a man by the name of Aball, intensely disliked by his outlaw brother-in-law. To demonstrate their dislike, the boys cut off the man's head, and nailed it to the top of a fence post in front of their sisters house. The community became outraged, such wanton crime. Several decided that there should be some sort of punishment for the brothers, and although Grandpa Rennie was a very mild mannered man, he agreed with the majority. Such a flagrant disregard for conventions demanded some sort of reprisal. The group had other sins that had upset the neighborhood. They had murdered a Mr. Wade who lived at West Mineral. And the summer before during a reunion at Baxter Springs, they had choked a Mr. Barber to death. However, the policemen had managed to shoot one of the brothers fatally in that episode.
So the meeting was called, and the hideous crime was rehashed. Then Grandpa began to see the folly of a lynching. Such a deed would only put them on the same level with the Murpheys. It is said that he was responsible for getting the irate crowd to change their minds and to issue an ultimatum that the gang leave the area immediately, and never return.
Seemingly they did just that, nothing was heard of them for a long time. Then it was discovered that the three boys were hiding in the attic of Center Star schoolhouse. They had been able to come and go through a carefully devised hole in the roof, so as not to be detected. It was indeed a frightened young school marm, and students when they found that for all that time the outlaws had been hiding right over their heads the seven hours they spent in the building each day.
Politics was also a major factor in the pioneers life. Nationwide problems, like the Gold Standard which was a major issue in 1894. Huge parades were planned, the Republican participants riding gray or white horses, and the Democrats riding blacks or sorrels. One character, by the name of Stuttering Pete added spice to the parade by driving mules. Accustomed to the fields, the mules took off across an empty lot, Stuttering Pete right after them screaming at them in the language that only mules seem to understand. In his excitement, his stuttering had completely left him.
Grandpa once owned and operated a sawmill at the work of the Mighty Neosho, and the gentle Spring Rivers. Now this is the place where the Twin Bridges span the entrance to the Grand Lake of the Cherokees in northeastern Oklahoma. The area, then a part of the Cherokee Nation, was mostly inhabited by Indians. Once when Grandpa sent one of his sons to the home of one to bring back eggs for the sawmill crew, the child was terrified, having heard so many wild stories of the Indians and their cruel attacks. But the Indians became fast friends to the children, and they made excuses to run to the Indian cabins.
The huge engine, belching smoke was a source of great curiosity to the Indians. They came daily to watch, wearing flat black hats decorated with a long turkey feather. They clutched brightly colored blankets around their bodies. Occasionally a spark from the steam engine would set a blanket afire, and great would be the excitement until the blaze was extinguished.
Although a Rennie is a Rennie, still in their youth they did not always see eye to eye with Grandpa as to the necessity of holding noses to the grindstone. At the very beginning of an unusually big threshing season, Grandpa delegated the boys to go to West Mineral for coal to begin the annual run. But the big celebration being held in Joplin was too tempting, so they all took off on the local train that stopped at Star Valley a mile or so from home. Along with their girls, they failed to note the passing of time and before they knew it, it was dawn. Shoes in hand, they sneaked into the house, hoping for a precious few minutes of rest before the days work began. But Grandpa was waiting for them. As soon as they changed clothes, they were on their way to West Mineral, without breakfast, for the threshing coal.
On another occasion, when the fall threshing had caused Grandpa to make a schedule that was so tight that no time had been allowed for election day shenanigans. But the boys sneaked away again, and managed to have a very fine time indeed. Every one did, everyone, that is, excepting two old fellows that were busily engaged in a political discussion from the vantage point atop the two openings on the seat of their moon and star ventilated shelter. Suddenly the whole house was uprooted mysteriously, and their private political booth landed door side down where it had been pushed over. While Grandpa never told the boys he approved of their escapades, he often chuckled over the whole thing.
On one other occasion, the huge old steam engine was cooled and threshing was delayed when one of the boys and a hired man encountered a mad dog in the manger as they fed the horses. The two were hurried off to the nearest railway station, where they embarked on a trip to the home of an old couple who lived in Pleasanton, Kansas. The people owned the only madstone around, and people who had been bitten came for miles to take advantage of its use. The madstone is a bone from a deer, which is rubbed over the bite on the victim. Then the stone is placed in boiling hot milk. If the milk turns a darkish green, that is proof that the dog was rabid. The wound is caressed with the stone, and then placed in the hot milk, intermittenly until it comes out clean. The two stayed for several days, until it was determined that the cure was over. No ill effects were ever noticed from either victim.
At the turn of the century Grandpa's children began to marry and grandchildren began to arrive. Again Grandpa became restless and yearned for new horizons. He bought several quarter sections of land in Western Kansas and moved out in 1908. The vastness of the country thrilled and challenged him. Again he bought threshing equipment, a Peerless Plow type engine, 25 HP, and a Garr-Scott separator. When he wasn't threshing, he used the steam engine to break the many acres of sod being converted to farm land. He died in 1925 back in his southeast Kansas home, a thresherman for over fifty years.
During the years that Grandpa stayed in Western Kansas, one of his sons carried on the threshing tradition back east, using a 22 HP Geiser with a Peerless separator. Elmer Rennie carried on until 1936, owning at variout times a Minneapolis, a Frick, Russell others. But finally he was forced to let the combines take over.
Grandpa has been gone for almost fifty years, and all of his children have passed on. But the third, fourth and yes, the fifth generations all cherish a passion for the mighty steam engines of his time. The family talk of a fitting memorial for Grandpa, they would like to put on a display in the city park, a steam engine and a separator. This in the hope that future generations may have some idea about the era when steam power was a way of life.