Thursday, January 31, 2013

An Ordinary, Amazing Woman: Mary Rickman Anderson Grant

by Kristine Schmucker, Curator

"Mrs. Mary O. Grant, colored, aged 95, one of the oldest residents in this county  died Tuesday night at 11:30 . . . "

At the time of her death in 1923, Mary Rickman Anderson Grant was among the last of the first settlers of Harvey County, but her name never appeared in any of the old settler lists. She is not pictured in the Kansan 25th Anniversary Edition printed in August 1922, a year before her death.  Her story, and that of her pioneer family, remained alive through oral tradition within the larger Rickman/Anderson/McWorter/Clark  families.

Mary Rickman Anderson Grant
Harvey County Pioneer
Photo courtesy Jullian Wall

Mary's story starts  in Sparta, White Co., Tennessee where she was born April 1835.  Her father's name was Nathanial  Rickman and her mother's name may have been Sophia.  In the 1860 Census, Mary is listed as the head of household with four children, Joseph, America, Lucy and Tennessee.  At some point she met and married David Anderson and moved to Ohio.  David Anderson served in the Civil War in Co I 14th Reg. U.S.C.T., which was the same regiment as Mary's brother Joseph Rickman.  Perhaps he introduced Anderson to his sister and they got married.  By 1870, the entire Anderson family was living in Clemont County, Ohio with David listed as head of the household with three more children; James Wayman, Thomas Jefferson, and Nathanial.  A daughter, Carrie, is born later that year.

Homesteading on the Prairie

In 1871, the Anderson family decided to move to Kansas. Like many black families they saw the opportunity to own  land. The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed a citizen to file "first papers", pay a $10 fee and claim 160 acres of land in the public domain.  The Anderson family left all that they knew and traveled by covered wagon to Emporia, Kansas for a chance to own their own land. From Emporia, they traveled to Florence, Kansas, where the family stayed  in a dugout while David Anderson went on to the homestead site in Pleasant Township, Harvey County.  Here he began building a new home, but met with misfortune almost immediately.  One of the horses died, leaving only one older horse for the difficult work of breaking the prairie sod.  Anderson decided to trade the horse for a pair of oxen and continued to work on improving the claim.
David M. Anderson
Mary's 1st husband
Photo courtesy Jullian Wall

Anderson filed for a homestead in Harvey County, Pleasant Township, Section 26, but he did not live to see the fruits of his efforts.  David died on April 3, 1872, leaving Mary with eight children on the prairie.  He was buried on the homestead.
1885 Atlas
Pleasant Township, Harvey County
Mary was determined to keep the homestead. Other members of the family helped her complete a sod house.  For the first several years, Mary lived in the small soddy with her eight children, four boys, and four girls.  The boys "slept in swinging beds hung from the cellar rafters so that they would be protected from snakes and insects."  Wild life of all types, from wolves and coyotes to buffalo would come within a short distance of the house. Fuel was scarce, so like other homesteaders, the Anderson family relied on cow-chips and corn stalks for cooking and heating.  From the homestead it was an all day trip to Peabody, the site of the nearest mill for the Anderson family.  The older boys would take a sack of corn and go by horse to the mill where the corn could be ground into cornmeal.

Death from accident or illness was a constant threat to the new settlers.  In 1872, Mary's daughter, America Turner died.  Three granddaughters, Estelle & Linnie (1879) and Alta (1881) also died and were buried in the family plot on the homestead. 

Challenges on the Prairie

An early challenge that faced the Anderson family was a  winged creature known as the Rocky Mountain Locust. August 7, 1874 no doubt started out like any other day for the Anderson family.  Perhaps Mary was up early make breakfast when she noticed that the sky seemed to be darkening.  At first she may have thought the low, dark gray cloud "being blown swiftly from the north west" was a rainstorm.  It was soon apparent that this was something else entirely.  Billions of grasshoppers had arrived in "swarms so large they blocked out the sun."  For three days the locusts, only 1.25-1.4 inches long, whirred and chewed their way across Harvey County.  In their wake, total destruction.  
"At the end of that time every stalk of corn and garden and every vestige of vegetation that was green enough for them to eat simply was not.  It did not exist.  All paint and even the old black  boards and logs were eaten until they looked like new lumber." ("Anderson,Rickman, & Rossiter Family Reunion Picnic" by Marguerite Huffman, ca. 1981 in Harvey County Residents Box 1B, Rickman/Anderson File Folder 35)
The Locust Plague, by CV Riley, 1877
The green shows the hardest hit.

Minnesota locusts of the 1870s
This species was not a grasshopper, rather a Rocky Mountain Locust which went extinct around 1902.
See also

The Anderson family confronted another challenge of the prairie.  In 1876, a prairie fire broke out near Whitewater, south and east of the Anderson claim.  Soon the flames were sweeping across Harvey County in a ten mile wide swath.  A neighbor  lost his barn and 20 head of cattle.  Young Jefferson Anderson was home alone at the time.  He did the only things he could think of - he turned the oxen loose and chased them to the creek.  Amazingly, the house was spared.  The main loss was of a pig pen and a stable. 
Orison Grant
Wearing his Civil War Uniform
Mary's 2nd husband
Photo Courtesy Jullian Wall

Forty-six year old Mary Anderson married Orison Grant, a Civil War veteran, in September 1878.  A Justice of the Peace performed the ceremony.  Grant  was 61 at the time according the marriage license.

Grant had also come to Kansas in search of land to call his own.  He settled on a claim in Highland Township in 1871.  After their marriage, the Grants sold the Highland claim in two parts; the first in 1885 for $1350 and the second in 1886 for $2000.  

1885 Atlas
Highland Township, Harvey County

In 1889, Mary made the final $8.00 payment on her homestead in Pleasant Township - the farm was officially hers.

Orison Grant died February 3, 1893.  His obituary noted that "people that knew him intimately dubbed him 'General' which title always pleased him.  He was respected by all who knew him." (Newton Kansan, 3 February 1893, p.3)

Keeping the family together

Mary stayed on the homestead until 1910.  At that time she sold the farm for $8,500.  Family was important to Mary and  it was important to her that the family stayed together.    When she moved to Newton, she had the six members of the family who had been buried in the family plot on the farm moved to Greenwood Cemetery, Newton.

For the next thirteen years Mary lived with her daughter, Lucy Rickman Mayfield at 330 E. 6th, Newton.  Mary Grant, Harvey County pioneer, died August 1, 1923 at the Mayfield home.
Mary Rickman Anderson Grant and Lucy Rickman Mayfield 
During the month of  February, in honor of  Black History Month, we will be featuring related stories from Harvey County. Much of the information on the Rickman/Anderson/Grant family is based on oral traditions preserved by Marguerite Rickman Huffman & June Rossiter Thaw and research by Karen Wall.  We are grateful for their willingness to share the stories of this Harvey County family. 

  • Anderson,Rickman, & Rossiter Family Reunion Picnic" by Marguerite Huffman, ca. 1981 in Harvey County Residents Box 1B, Rickman/Anderson File Folder 35)
  • Evening Kansas Republican, 1 August 1923, p. 5.
  • Newton Kansan, 3 February 1893, p.3
  • Karen Wall, Find-A-Grave, "Mary Rickman Anderson Grant."

Visit for more information on the Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives.


  1. Very intersting story! Thanks, Kris!

  2. Oh Kristine! This is WONDERFUL! Thank you so much for putting this together and filling in some blanks. Ironically, I'm working on my American herstory entitled "The Autobiography of Nobody in Particular"
    When things get tough for me, I think of my grandmothers and look at their pictures for strength.
    I have more posted in facebook where I've been sharing them with the Ramsey/Ramsay's I've found.
    or the left side of

    I'm looking to see if Rickman's plantation is near the Anderson plantation in Tennessee.
    Perhaps the proximity is a clue as to how they met. Wouldn't it be amazing if she were related to Jourdon Anderson's family? They wonder if he wrote the letter himself. If you knew our folks, the intelligence goes back a minute. (grins)

    1. I'm so glad you found this post useful. I did look at you photos and there are some that look very much like the same people we have in our photo collection. There are still quite a few descendants living in the area - have you been in contact with anyone? They were the basis for much of the info that we have at the museum.
      Thank you for your interest!

  3. Still savoring ...and working the oral traditions in with the records...
    so shiny and new to me. Dad was quite motivated to get the internet going for this. Oh my goodness!
    I just <3 you folks
    My Dad's side is turning up some interesting suffragettes as well!
    I think I know why Dad, Robert S. Blackwell Jr. of KCMO from Lexington, became one of the first Black Navy corpsman.
    Oh, Elizabeth!
    When dealing with uncomfy realities,
    it helps to keep a sense of humor.
    I see where the oral tradition has Blackwell's burning each others barns every other Halloween, I believe.
    And I see where a scribble on a death certificate can make one *snortle* and zoom back a bit and compartmentalize the facts from the politics.
    And put those politics back where we can value true quality, cooperation and intelligence again.
    That was kind of the point of this social experiment, we might as well call it like we see it. Cousin Howard told me that when we were building together, a bar brawl went down as they did. If you got whupped, you just got whupped....even in Missourah.
    I can't find it now, but there's a census showing Ramseys who were Chinese, Black and White. It seems "colored" were our Choctaw Lee's and Osage Grant's. That's how NDNs worked things out after a battle.
    I can't wait to build a 3D model "Anderson Bookstore" filled with links to every book ever written about the town, with props to the actual bookstore, of course!
    I'm almost ready to pick a location. Think, digital Barbie towns we customize on a whim. People who log into the virtual world, can explore the bookstore, and anyone who has an account can buy the book through their portals. I've been sharing with a few of your locals and having a fun time setting up.
    I'm creating machinima videos to show what I'm building with other digital architects. The map shows "Seals Village" where I'm working on the museum. It's pretty kewl and free to and look around. I'm designing it so that no one has to tend to it, after the videos and notecard givers link to the information here on the WWW from the portraits hanging in the virtual world museum, (I use the Firestorm Opensim browser) for surfing virtual worlds.
    there will also be books and web interfaces I have to configure, in order to teach visitors how to research their own family trees.
    So much to do. There are free outfits to fit the Olde West style and there is a free shopping area on "Blackwell Ln", where one can build an avatar and get started.
    This is where I keep the demos.
    Teaching goes back in the family, so if Jourdon Anderson is one of us, I would not be surprised if he wrote that famous letter himself. He lived in Ohio before we left on the wagon train.
    Both towns buzz about Bethel.
    Our Blackwell grandparents went to Howard and Dad went to GW. Colleges love their archives....hint, hint. If there are recordings of Ruthabel's singing, I would adore hearing them.
    I'm organizing my youtube videos here.

    This was a formidable woman!
    I know where Grandma Zola got her chutzpah!
    And off I go to make the donuts....

    1. Thank you. Glad you enjoy to post.

    2. Hi, My name is Karen Seals-Brox, I'm reading your blog and enjoying greatly. I'm also wondering how we are related. Nadine Blackwell-Seals was my grandmother and Emanuel Seals my grandpa(my dads parents Robert Seals). If you have any answers for please email me at Thanks a mill :-)

    3. Hey there, Cousin!
      Aunt Nadine was my grandfather's sister!

  4. Billie-Marie Hudson gave me copies of these old photos. I just scanned them in to the Find-a-Grave site, but had trouble with the technicals for awhile.
    One of these days, I'll finally get back to sorting that bit out, but I've set up galleries in my 3D virtual world studio called Xanadu, currently hosted on grid on opensim technologies. Thanks to Mr. Wall, they ended up where they belonged. Hee-hee

  5. Dad's Mother, Flora-Mae was a Harvey/Grant/Blackwell.
    Some of the Grants were Scott, which explains how Grandad called her "Flara".
    This is my mother's side who shares a grandad with President US Grant, via Orison (by marriage, not blood).
    Orison and Ramsey/Anderson Met with Bouseman and ended up in Kentucky.
    I'm currently untangling the tangle of "Grant" cadets from West Point.
    And tracking Blackwells from Virginia, North Carolina to Missouri ...west and back east when those locusts ripped through the region. Grandma Grant was also a Harvey.
    Any help would be AMAZING.

  6. This is really cool. Mary Rickman Anderson Grant is my 3rd great grandmother. Her granddaughter Carrie Anderson Mayfield is my great grandmother.

    1. How nice to meet you. She would of been my 2nd great grandmother. Her son Nathaniel A Anderson was my Great Grandfather and Nathaniel Clark Anderson was my Grandpa. My father was Harvey Clark Anderson.

  7. Hey cousin! Have you noticed how much JW Ramsey looks like Bass Reeves? Makes sense now because Dad's cousin was US Grant!
    I had no idea we were THAT cool
    Dad's brother's middle name was Grant. The naming convention holds. I just learned that Aunt Hazel's mother came from Liverpool! I love that story. I'm catching up now, because Gucifer and Zombies ate my homework. I've brought my virtual world museum back online and this time it's got a Buffalo Bill show in town, a Saloon and ridable horses. It's sad we're losing Blackwell Bookstores too. I've only seen the Anderson Bookstore once. The 1812 wagon train stories are fascinating.
    I'll catch up soon, now that I'm back in the saddle again.
    My folks were in high school together, but they grew up in KCMO and KCKS I joked that they met on the bridge. Our grandmothers got us through influenza, I'm hopeful we'll get through this somehow. I hope you're doing well.
    I wish I could have stayed up in Canada with our northern homesteaders. Canada's kinda weird tho.
    This site is fantastic. Seems there hasn't been a reunion since I got out of High School in 1983!
    I'm Zola's Granddaughter. She was the youngest and got left out because she arrived nearly 10 years after her sister Mary, who lived to 104. They passed the same year.
    The Space Race had me growing up outside the Beltway where Dad was coding for the Hidden Figures project.