Copy of letter from Emily Sell
What's New on the KHC Blog 
donate button

Like us on FacebookFollow us on Twitter


The National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Kansas help fund Kansas Humanities Council grants and programs. Please thank your legislators and members of Congress for their support. KHC also relies on donations from people like you.  Please thank the Friends of the Humanities who support KHC. 

When in Rome (Kansas)

When Emily Sell wrote about the misery of watching grasshoppers eat her husband's fields of wheat, Elaine Clark knew exactly what she was talking about. Sumner County is, after all, the Wheat Capital of the World. But was it in the 1870s? Through the support of a KHC Heritage grant, the Sumner County Historical & Genealogical Society is transcribing 186 pages of letters written by Sell, an early settler. Page by page, the letters are shedding new light on what life was like for Kansas homesteaders 140 years ago.

Sell homesteaded with her husband in Rome, Kansas, in the early 1870s and her letters reflect the triumphs and tragedies of life on the prairie. Life in Rome, now a ghost town, comes alive in Sell's letters to family. In a letter to her cousin Clara, dated November, 1878, Sell reports on the wheat harvest and offers details about her children's education:
"...the Grasshoppers have destroyed a good deal of wheat here this fall we had 15 acres sowed it is gone. Jacob is going to sow some more a good many are sowing their wheat over to give you some idea how much wheat was raised in this part of Kan there has been as many as 200 loads delivered in Wichita from sumner Co in one day. the children got their books all right and are very proud of them...they do not go to school yet for the reason school is too far for them to walk..." [sic]

Sell's letters are an invaluable resource for researchers, according to Clark, the "Prairie Letters" project director. "There have been histories written about other areas of Sumner County during this time period, but very few collections of letters have been discovered which give a first-person perspective," shared Clark in the Winfield Daily Courier. "That makes this collection of letters a priceless, irreplaceable piece of Kansas history."

"This project would NOT have been possible without the KHC Heritage grant," said Clark.

Visit the Sumner County Historical & Genealogical Society's website or follow them on Facebook for updates about the project.   
Heritage grants to transcribe and preserve historical documents, such as letters, are available. For more information, contact Murl Riedel, director of grants, at (785) 357-0359.