1872: Gillis Munroe Parker to “Friend Wallace”

This letter was written by Gillis Munroe Parker (1849-Aft1920), the eldest son of Robert Gillis Parker (1818-1890) and Sarah Elizabeth Moffatt (1826-1901) of Mansfield, Bristol county, Massachusetts. From this letter we learn that Gillis has just left his “hometown” of Mansfield (though he was born on Cambridge), Massachusetts and arrived in the State Capitol of Topeka in Kansas where the “wind blows with all vengeance and [there is] no name for thunder storms.” Eight years later the US Census places him in Little River, Reno county, Kansas where he was employed as a “laborer.” By 1900 he had relocated with his wife Emily (Thomas) Parker and two children to Attleborough, Bristol county, Massachusetts.

Gillis claims in his letter that he wrote it from “on of the highest hills” near Topeka. This was most likely Burnett’s Mound—so named for the Potawatomie Chief Abram B. Burnett who had farmed and operated a horse and oxen business near the hill before he passed away in 1870. Unfortunately Gillis does not give us the name of the Potawatomie Chief that he claims to have overheard make the statement that he saw “no future” for his people.

Gillis asks his friend “Wallace” of Mansfield, Massachusetts, to write him in Topeka care of Valentine Tufts Starbird (1850-1880), the son of Asa tufts Starbird (1802-1884) and Emeline Tyler (1820-1876) of Charlestown, Massachusetts. Gillis and Valentine were about the same age and must have been boyhood acquaintances. In the 1870 US Census, Valentine was working as a store clerk in Somerville, Mass.

Topeka, Kansas, in the 1870s


Topeka, Kansas
August 13, 1872

Friend Wallace,

A hearty clasp of your [hand]. I am now going to drop you a line. It is a rainy day and I am at leisure to speak to my old friend. I am 1700 miles from my old homestead, out on the plains of the great West where the wind “blows with all vengeance and [there is] no name for thunder storms.” The climate is of a mild temperature running from 80o to 95o. I am pleasantly located on one of the highest hills commanding scenery for 17 miles.

The occupation of the people is mostly stock raising and this is the place for it. Cattle can have a range of thousands of miles. The stock raisers turn their stock out in the morning and night have to go 2 or 3 miles for them—that is, those who do not keep a herder. Game is plenty—prairie chicken & quail being the most abundant but going farther west from us 40 miles we can find antelope &c.

Te Indian that the eastern gents are afraid of are not at all dangerous. I have seen a great many but they are mostly a civilized people. They are a little lazy but some of them own nice farms and can converse on considerable many subjects. I saw the Chief of the Pottawatomies and he told the gentleman in whose company I was that he could see no future for the Indian as regards their lazy habits. I have seen the Indian himself with a pack of buffalo skins on a little pony not weighing over 700 lbs., and the squaw walking behind. Oh! they are a lazy set.

I had a splendid ride through the central states where one could look and see the fields of corn & wheat as far as he could see. Things grow spontaneous our here, Wallace. Corn 25 cents a bushel, butter 12 & 15, eggs 10, meat 6 cents lb., pork 4 cents.

I will now close. I will next time give you more information after hearing from you. Write me all the particulars about Mansfield and what news you know in general.

Yours truly, — Gillis M. Parker

Direct to G. M. Parker, Topeka, Kansas, care of V[alentine] T[ufts] Starbird

Remember me to your family and tell your mother I am not homesick.

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