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Letters by T. Fulton Gantt - 1895 and 1896
North Platte, Nebraska


Thompson Fulton Gantt in North Platte in 1888, to practice law and raise his family. He and his wife had five children. In 1896 T. Fulton Gantt ran for the House of Representatives on the Populist ticket and was defeated. He passed away the following year, on August 24, 1897.

T. Fulton Gantt's family (brothers and sisters) used what they called Round Robin letters. One would write a letter and send it to the next person. That person would add whatever he/she waanted and send it on to the next person. T. Fulton seemed to be the first writer as his family has never found the end letters. So when T. Fulton starts his letters as "Dear Robin", he is addressing the rest of his family.



North Platte, Neb. July 5th 1895

Dear Robin,
The foregoing will give you a vague idea of the thoughts seething in my brain when the Robin dropped in upon me with relation to the work blocked out for me on the Fourth. Of course in addition to this I was in the depths of some law problems, but that is a normal condition. Yet I was so worried that I could not get down to this letter and the thought occurred to me that I would give you a carbon copy of some of what I intended to talk about on the 4th.

I talked a little less than half an hour in the grove of our Court House square and nearby was Miss Aileen Gantt listening for the first time in her life to her father make a speech. She said, "Papa I liked your speech very well but thought you talked too loud", a criticism by the way that I have had from older and more experienced persons.

We had a great procession with civic and military organizations in line and bicycle parade and floats of all sorts of description. A fine two seated carriage dragged the mayor of the city and your humble servant through the streets and we together viewed the procession from a platform built for the purpose.

But more prominent than the mayor or myself in the procession was Master Paul Gantt who disdained the seat and stood throughout the parade, and upon the speaker's platform he occupied the most prominent position, with a sand froid which was interesting.

The day was more than hot and through the afternoon was filled with all sorts of proceedings we remained in the house and put the entire family asleep to recuperate for the fireworks of the evening. We had arranged to go to the Bullards and join our stock of fireworks with several other parties and we had undertaken the mighty task of taking with us the entire family.

The night was perfect and the party was made up of the Bullards, Walkers, Barnums, Clintons, Doolittles, Gantts and their respective hordes of children. Mr. Bullard had prepared for the occasion by arranging pinwheels on the numerous posts throughout his garden, troughs out of which to fire the rocket's and a platform in the middle of the lawn for a variety of blue, red and green lights and other special pieces.

The performance began before dark with a miscellaneous fusillade of firecrackers and just as soon as it was dark enough the wheels began to turn, the rockets flew heavenwards, roman candles filled the air with sparks and the platform presented all sorts of blazing phenomena and through it all there was a crowd of small boys and girls fairly wild with delight.

The balloon unfortunately caught fire but the youngsters were actually surfeited with fourth of July fun and at ten o'clock when we reached home Paul was growling because the people were still making night roar with firecrackers and he wanted to go to sleep. Aileen and Edith were tired enough to appear contented with the days enjoyment while Robert Fulton took occasion to sleep through most of the performance.

The day was hard on Edith Sr. for she had expected the Murphy family from Brady Island and had prepared accordingly; then she had ordered some cherries and they had of course arrived at this juncture and her girl had gone home on a vacation. But we had a great dinner with all the dishes from that incomparable garden of ours, wound up with ice cream, the product of our own dairy.

That garden of mine is a feast for the eye of a horticulturist artist. I take pride in it because it represents my own labor from the spading down, save some weeds which Edith and the children have pulled. There are too many weeds yet for comfort but one or two sieges yet and it will be too nice for anything. I have yet my fall celery to plant but have the ground nearly ready for it, not that I need any celery in the garden because I have helped to plant a field of several thousand plants at Ed Murphy's and shall go down tomorrow night or Sunday morning with about another

thousand plants. We shall have one field of celery, near this city, of about twenty acres planted, handled and marketed by a professional gardener who has fled from the neighborhood of Denver for the better soil and opportunities present here. His crop will bring him gross about $16,000.00. I am trying to get away from the town long enough to see him work. I want to steal his trade. My experience in Ed Murphy's field reassures me that nothing can be taken from the soil without labor, but my experience proves to me that this is true of any employment in which we engage.

The past seven years in the law business has fully proven this to me and I know more than ever that success in this business means hard work and lots of it. Many people do not believe it and think the lawyer has an easy time of it because he does no physical labor, but I am frequently working the hardest when prone on the couch apparently idle. Women especially fail to appreciate this. The past seven years have been the hardest working years of my life. What worries me most just now is what the prices of land in this neighborhood are going skyward before I can get around to the purchase of the ranch of my dreams.

There has been much activity about the house this spring. The parlor carpet got worn through in places and Edith declared it to be her intention to take it up and never put it down again, in a tone of voice that forced upon me the conviction that a new carpet only could solve the difficulty; the same with regard to the frowsy matting on the bedrooms. I quietly took the hint and the result was a new deal.

Then the necessity of painting was apparent and considerable was done, and scrubbing and calcimining et all until the mere work of superintendence almost broke me down. You can imagine the work Edith has accomplished since spring opened up. Fortunately we have all been well, especially the baby, the boss of all. He is a boy all over, more vigorous and active than any of the others were at his age.

Six o'clock is here and this letter must be brought to a close. I would suggest the Robin family that the only way to get this family bulletin around safely with promptness and dispatch is to write at once. I don't always do it but I keep the Robin under my eye until it is done. I have been interrupted frequently during this writing and now I have forgotten what I have already said. I fear I may repeat. We hope to hear from you all soon and we all join with love to you all.

Affectionately,

(original was unsigned)


North Platte, Neb. April 29th 1896

Dear Robin,

The family communication dropped in on us last night and I make haste to get in my contribution and get it along. I see I must have by mistake got in a letter from Amos to myself but there was no harm done and some opinion as to politics was drawn out.

I have seen very much of politics during the past 25 years and not the least valuable was my experience for six years in Washington. There is no danger of my seeking an office short of the Presidency and the danger of such an office for me is much more remote than the Millennium. Dan's proposition is the correct one and followed most rarely. There are times when a man may be forced by the men of his party to accept a nomination for some office but these times are exceedingly rare and I have known of no instances of late in Nebraska.

It is true that a number of my friends have urged me to declare myself a candidate, but I have refused and shall continue to refuse. I have taken no active part in politics further than to vote and make an occasional speech for the past five years, but I have been abused more by the opposition papers than have the active candidates. It is true that the thing known as practical politics without regard to the party has gotten upon a low moral scale and perhaps it has always been so. Yet it is through politics that all reforms must come in the matter of state-craft. The pressure for small places is so great that men become debauched in the struggle. I sometimes think that the pressure would not be so great if times were good and men could make the same money in other vocations.

Outside of my business I am more interested just now generally in the agricultural and horticultural development of this locality by the aid of irrigation and especially interested in the development of the farm we are trying to buy. It is the most absorbing topic in our house and all the children are deeply interested. Even little Robbie pricks up his ears when the subject is mentioned and is supremely happy when we load him up for a trip to the farm. Paul and Aileen are full of schemes for spending their vacation there and little Edith makes her own plans, too.

We have no immediate intention of abandoning the law business with the view of digging our living out of the farm. We have a vague shadowy dream that perhaps in the future sometime we may be able to build an ideal home there and the produce of the place will insure us a comfortable existence. If I have ever dreamed of sudden wealth on a farm the dream has faded away. The price of farm products for several years past is not calculated to inspire the farmer with the hope of soon accumulating a large bank account.

Dan knows something of the work, worry and results of the fruit farm. I am informed that great prune orchards west of us do not pay for gathering the fruit. The fruit farmers of Utah and California complain of being robbed by the middlemen and the railroads. The deeper I dive into the matter the more obstacles I find in the way of getting rich from the products of the soil.

Then I find that those people who travel from place to place in search of El Dorados meet with many unexpected difficulties. Quite a number of our people have gone to Grand Junction to grow fruit in the Grand Valley. They raise beautiful fruit, but they also raise mosquitoes which rival anything of the kind produced in New Jersey and during the fruit season they have the thermometer standing steadily at 115 in the shade so that they can only lay around during the hottest part of the day and pant for breath and they have other discomforts.

The same is true of southern California and other places. We occasionally find people who met their defeat at these distant places and learn more and more that "hills are green at a distance." Nevertheless I have never been more strongly of the opinion than now that the only safe precaution that can be exercised by everyone is to have the absolute possession of sufficient soil to provide a safe retreat and sufficient sustenance in case of necessity.

I have no idea of digging out that living for myself and family at this writing but I do not know what may happen and I want to have the feeling that when my clients abandon me and I have no job that I will still be independent, supplied with the means to live. I absolutely know this, that a man with sufficient acres, well stocked, thoroughly cultivated and out of debt has in his own hands the means of a comfortable living. The farmer, of all men, should avoid speculation and to this end after being once firmly established should buy nothing except for money on hand and should only aim to sell his surplus. The great demand of the United States at the present time is that the thousands of surplus population in the congested cities should in some way get planted upon the soil. The discouraging thing is that the price of land is so high.

Lena and John feel this in their efforts to provide for Dan. They know that he could never, with present rents, manage to sustain a family in the same comfort to which he has been accustomed as a tenant farmer and it seems that notwithstanding the hard times farm rents are on the increase instead of the decrease. Farm lands in Illinois are now from five to sever per acre in cash in advance, or in bankable paper. We have but little conception of what the farmers pay in Europe and it seems that the more intensively they farm and the more their labor produces, the higher the rents become. I have the strongest hopes that in the west with irrigation and favorable laws we may be able to supply many with homes who are now hopeless in the cities.

Unfortunately our people are just as quick to raise the price of lands the instant there is a demand for it as the land-owners further east. Yet so much more can be grown by irrigation that an average of forty acres to the farm is sufficient with us. Mr. Park, U.P. Superintendent here, told me last night that he was ready to make affidavit that every acre of his Alfalfa last year made him $27.00. There will this year be very much more of horticultural products planted and our professional gardener from Colorado is in very high spirits over the prospects.

We have had an abundance of rain so far and the farmers assure me that small grain is now an assured success. On the divides the farmers are putting in as large an acreage as possible while the in irrigation districts the ditches are being used to carry off the surplus water. Our fruit is mostly in bloom and we are apprehensive of a frost in May which may damage us. We were much pleased to learn of the good prospects all along the line of the Robin and were especially interested in what Dan had to say about planting fruit. We just rolled our eyes and wished that the same identical thing had been done on our prospective farm. The most experienced men here say that no better place for grapes can be found anywhere. Sometimes I fear that I may grow too old for the real enjoyment of a farm before I succeed in getting it in shape as I would like.

Our boys have ten acres of alfalfa and oats in, about an acre of onions and are hard at work planting potatoes. The first scheme was that they should batch on the place but after a bit their mother thought she could help the boys and finally the father, who runs a blacksmith shop here, saw no reason why he could not live there too and ride in and out every day. So it now appears that the whole family are there and all participating in the work with six horses, two brood sows and about 100 chickens. We stand in for a third of all crops and a third of all hogs and poultry fattened on the place. We furnish the land and pay one third of the cost of the hogs and poultry fattened. The father furnished the boys a complete outfit of farming implements and seed while we furnished the alfalfa seed. We purpose keeping an accurate account of everything and will be able perhaps at the end of the year to tell you exactly the results of farming in this country. We are taking chances on rain and moisture this year as our irrigating canal will not be completed in time for summer irrigation.

It would do your souls good to see Edith, little Robert and myself take a trip to the farm while the other children are in school. Smallwood has a little pony mare and the worst old rattletrap of a spring wagon you ever saw. I get on my overalls and the worst old hat I have while Edith gets an old hat or sun bonnet and we perch ourselves on the high seat while the old mare ambles off at the rate of about 5 miles an hour. The rig costs nothing and we get considerable comfort out of the trip. We frequently meet friends in smart rigs who smile condescendingly at the spectacle we make and we don't care very much for livery rigs cost lots of money which we want to save in order to get a 2.40 rig of our own in the sweet by and by.

Paul, Aileen and little Edith are all going to school. Edith having started this spring, and all of them seem to be getting on with their studies. We think we can see a growing interest in Paul in his school work. The little fellow is a most enthusiastic gardener and has the garden dug up in spots and has already planted all the different seeds he could get hold of. It is wonderful what the little fellow can do with his crippled hand in way of handling tools and we are hoping that it will grow stronger as he grows older. The children do not grow alike in disposition as they grow older and they are so different from each other that they constitute the biggest problems of our lives. Fortunately they are in perfect health.

Edith is also comparatively well but has trouble with her help. This time she has a steady middle aged woman who was divorced from her husband. The difficulty I understand was too much attention to other women. I frequently think the man was more than justified and that the divorce law must have been a great boon to him as he is again married with no sign of divorce. This help problem is almost insoluble. The young girl we had last year seemed to fill the bill about right but she got the fever to go farther west. Edith has kept in correspondence with her and I believe has arranged with her to come to us again about the first of June.

But this letter must end. The day has nearly ended and I have some work that must be done. We join with love to you all and hope that the family letter will get around quicker than ever.

Affectionately,

T. Fulton Gantt
(signed)

 

T Fulton Gantt Letters

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