· Henry Hartford (1837-1919)
Houston Whiteside, 81, sips his coffee and looks out the front window of the mayor’s Oxford Café, Hutchinson, Kansas. His wife, Julia Clementine Latimer, 59, is talking about being a judge for an upcoming radio contest. It’s Saturday, October 8, 1927.
Houston Whiteside watched as a police officer hung a green ticket on an automobile parked too long on Main Street. In his head, the retired attorney-at-law, and former Reno County Attorney, contrasted the early days of Hutchinson to the present. What a difference a half-century could make!
In the earliest of days, the founder of Hutchinson, C. C. Hutchinson, had given away lots to encourage the growth of the town. Now, Police Chief George Duckworth—a former Reno County Sheriff—at the direction of the city council, especially the mayor, said the two-hour parking tickets were necessary to discourage local citizens from parking in front of local businesses all day. The establishments wanted to cater to their out-of-town customers and make it easy for them to load their cars with merchandise.
Whiteside, who had his 81st birthday a day earlier, had recently been thinking about Henry Harford who died at the same age in 1919. In the early years of Reno County, Hartford, who lived in Medora Township—and was the county’s second sheriff—had appreciated the businesses that offered enough hitching rails for their customers.
Hartford was a leader of men, and had risen from private to colonel during the Civil War. He first enlisted for 90-days, but after three months—and the war not over yet—mustered into the Eighth New Jersey Volunteers, Union Army, until the war ended. Eventually, he led the regiment, and commanded a brigade, in some of the hardest fighting in the Richmond Campaign. During numerous, fierce, military engagements, he showed his gallantry and was highly decorated. He was seriously wounded five times.
In his early teens, Whiteside was severely injured as a member of a patrol guard in his home country, Bedford County, Tennessee.
After a few years of school teaching and learning law, Whiteside migrated from Tennessee to Kansas, with plans to put his attorney-at-law degree to good use.
Hartford, a native of Londonderry County, Ireland, born February 8, 1837, crossed the Atlantic Ocean at age 18 in 1855, on one of the first steamships to make the journey. He settled in New York City with the help of his brother, William, who had arrived before him. Their widowed mother and sisters joined them later.
In 1867, the Hartford family located to Leavenworth, Kansas, where Henry and his brother worked in the commission business. The Hartford’s moved to Reno County in 1872, filing a homestead claim in the Medora area that became a 1,000 acre ranch engaged in farming and stock raising, known as the Hillsview Stock Farm.
Colonel Hartford, a Republican, was elected to the position of Reno County sheriff on November 3, 1873, and served one, two-year term. In the 1875 election for sheriff, he was defeated by John M. Hedrick, another Union veteran.
“What are you daydreaming about?” asked Julia of her husband.
“Oh, I was thinking about Henry Hartford,” answered Houston.
“He was a good citizen. He took an active part in the community. He had a great interest in developing the farming and stock interests in the county, and was a promoter of the fair association here, and one of the officials of the fair for a long time.”
“The last time I remember seeing Alice and Henry together,” said Julia, “was at the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ monument dedication. Both of them were active with the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic). Alice, bless her heart, is still involved with the Women’s Relief Club to support the veterans and their widows.”
“It was Flag Day,” said Houston.
“What?” asked Julia.
“The dedication of the monument at First Avenue and Walnut was on Flag Day in 1919. Henry died the same year . . . in the Fall,” said Houston.
“He was born in Ireland, survived the Civil War, and served a term as sheriff during dark economic times, a drought, and a devastating grasshopper invasion; yet, his life was just getting started. Within a couple of years of serving as sheriff, he became a naturalized citizen, with all its rights and privileges, and then he married his neighbor, Alice Elizabeth Thomas. She came to Little River Township from Indiana with her parents about the time the Hartford’s arrived. Her family, going back a couple of generations, were from Ireland.”
“I remember Alice telling me that she was a school teacher before she married,” said Julia. “I know she taught at Obee School.”
“Two of her children have taken after her, that’s for sure,” said Houston.
“Yes, I believe Etta and May are still teaching in the Hutchinson schools,” said Julia.
“I haven’t seen Alice for a long time,” said Houston, “but she’s always had a great deal of character and clarity in her vision. As a pioneer woman, she understood about hard living in a new country. During the grasshopper invasion in 1874, after they ravaged the fields and trees, the creatures even ate the laundry off clotheslines and food from inside our homes. And while the chickens ate the hungry pests, this caused the chickens to taste so bad, people wouldn’t eat the chickens!
“A lot of the settlers gave up and returned east,” continued Houston, “but not the Hartfords. It rained on March 14 and never rained again until August 1. The wind blew every day and it was often a hot wind. There were no crops, the grasshopper raid in July had destroyed and eaten up everything that grew.”
“Enough people had faith in the future to stay,” said Julia, “but I’m glad I missed those hardships.”
“Henry used to say, ‘the locusts ate everything but the mortgage,’” commented Houston.
“That reminds me,” said Julia, “I need to get in touch with Alice. She invited me to be her guest at the next Women’s Relief Club meeting.”
“Even at her age,” said Houston, “she’s still involved with the First Christian Church and raising funds for the care of Civil War veterans and their widows.”
“Alice has a big heart,” said Julia. “Henry also cared deeply for others, and he had a contagious sense of humor.”
“He was always telling jokes,” agreed Houston. “Do you remember this one? ‘Why did the Irishman wear red suspenders?’”
Julia smiled and nodded, then quickly replied, “To keep his pants up.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.