Looking Backward to Go Forward
It’s Wednesday, October 29, 1930, at Sprout Ranch, 12 miles south of Mullinville, Kansas. Carolyn “Carrie” Norman Sprout, 49, and her husband, Walter “Scott” Sprout, 55, are moving into their son’s house.
A week earlier, on October 22, Carrie and Scott’s daughter-in-law, Thelma Barrick Sprout, 23, gave birth to a second child, Thelma Lorraine Sprout. But the euphoria of a baby was soon countered with grief. Mother Thelma died three days later from an embolism due to complications of the birth.
Now, the two children have no mother. Their father, Thelma’s husband, Clarence Sprout, 28, is grief-stricken and overwhelmed.
“Clarence must feel like his world has been shattered,” said Carrie.
“He needs time,” said Scott, “He and the children all need time and loving care.”
“My number one concern,” said Carrie, “is Baby Thelma accepting nutrition so she can get stronger.”
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” said Scott.
“It’s hard to accept they were only married three years,” said Carrie. “Do you remember when Clarence came home from Manhattan and told us he’d met someone special?”
“The Kansas State Agricultural College was worth the tuition,” said Scott. “Clarence was captured by Thelma’s sunny disposition, charm, and ability to make friends. She reminded me of you when you were a school teacher near Turon and I was farming northeast of town.”
“Those were the days when it seemed like every other person I met was a relative of yours,” said Carrie, as she burst into a laugh and shed a tear, cutting the tension of the past week. The round-the-clock care of Thelma and Beverly was wearing Carrie down.
“That happens when your parents have ten children,” said Scott.
Carrie thought of how death could change a family. After Thelma’s mother, Bertha May Barrick, died in 1918, Thelma, just eleven, was raised in the home of her grandparents.
“Clarence and the girls can do this,” said Carrie. “Thelma turned out to be the perfect lady. My mother, Harriet “Hattie” Eliza Smith Norman, 40, died of typhoid fever in 1887 when I was five years old. Despite her early, sad death, she’s remembered as one of the first teachers at Sherman School, the first school in Hutchinson. She made a difference to others and to our family.”
“Even though your mother left this world too early,” said Scott, “she gave you a profession to strive for which led to college.”
“With five children, my father needed help after mother’s death,” said Carrie. “Being raised in Hutchinson by our grandparents, meant that all of us kids got to meet a lot of people and hear many pioneer stories. Grandfather, or ‘Captain Ephraim Augustus Smith’; and Grandma, Phoebe Root Smith; lived long, fruitful lives, and raised all of us to do our best.
“I recall the Old Settler’s Reunions when Grandfather led the Grand March,” said Carrie. “I heard stories of Hutchinson growing from a handful of dwellings and business houses with a population of 250 residents to what it is today. Grandpa and Grandma arrived in Hutchinson in the spring of 1872 when buffalo herds would occasionally disrupt outside work. Grandpa soon became the first county surveyor. I met his friends, including Houston Whiteside, Henry Hartford, and Eugene Meyer.”
“People deserve second chances,” continued Carrie. “When I was fourteen, Grandpa Smith had been nearly blind for several years. He could barely distinguish daylight from darkness, until Dr. Barton Pitts, of St. Joe, operated and removed the cataracts from both of Grandpa’s eyes. After that, he was able to see well enough to read.”
“Our country is a place for starting new lives,” said Scott. “I never heard Eugene Meyer speak French, but he was born in France. He was a pharmacist before he helped organize the first bank in Hutchinson in 1876.”
“Pet Nation and the First National Bank of Hutchinson have been a blessing in our life,” said Carrie. “When Pet invited us to run this ranch a few years after we left the sheriff’s office, I didn’t know if Kiowa County would ever feel like home the way it did in Reno County.”
“Yes, Pet’s done us right,” said Scott. “He’s a real cowboy and knows the cattle business from the bottom up. His sale of land to us permitted us to develop our Sprout and Son Ranch, and it’s given us precious time with Clarence and Thelma.”
“Life’s a mystery,” continued Scott. “Your Ephriam and Phobe were together for sixty-six years; Clarence and Thelma had but three.”
“Like relatives before us, we’ll step up and make a difference,” said Carrie. “We’ll help Clarence show Beverly and Thelma what it feels like to be a member of a big, happy family.”
Research for this essay began in 1985, when Beverly Carolyn Sprout Graves (1928-2008) and I corresponded about her family, including her father, Scott Sprout, who was sheriff of Reno County from 1917-1921, and her mother, Carrie Sprout, jail matron and cook. Beverly shared pleasant memories and photos with me. She was helpful and kind.
Until next time, happy writing and reading.