We are lucky enought to have a first-hand account from Rayben Harden about her early life when she came to Lexington to teach school and her first meeting with Chester (Chet) Harden. Gayle Harden was nice enough to transcribe portions of it for us, so it appears below the way Rayben wrote it -- her grammar and spelling. It contains details of things that are unfamiliar to me, and perhaps many won't recognize the terms she uses. But I'm sure some of our older readers will know something of what she writes about. I only know the term "surrey" from the musical, Oklahoma.
"Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry..."
In her own words, Rayben A. Hughs-Harden wrote a book entitled “My Life’s Story” about Chester's courtship back in 1913-1915. Rayben was a young school marm coming west from her home state of Missouri to teach at Lexington, Kansas. She had written to her great uncle who was on the school board at Lexington, Kansas and ask for a contract to sign.
Lexington, Kansas 1913
Now, I had not spoken to my parents about applying, when the contact came. They agreed it would be nice. I went to Lexington and boarded with my cousin, Gay Hughs and family the year of 1913 and 1914. I took part in all community affairs and we had an organ and opened our exercises with song and prayer. This school building was used for church services combined with the Methodist church in Sitka, same pastor. Revival meetings were held here too.
At this time the school board consisted of three directors, a Charles Harden was on the board. They had three sons and one daughter. The oldest son had a shying around Miss Hughs but never dated me. Now the Hardens had a lovely Surry and a beautiful team of bay horses they hitched to the Surry and I must mention Surries and buggies in this day had an iron socket on the end of the dash board to hold the “buggy whip” which seemed necessary to tap the horses when you wanted them to step up or hit a trot.
At that time Lexington mail was carried from Ashland in an old topless buggy by an elderly man, Mr. Dyer. Postage was 1 cent to 2 cents and the mail was taken to every home. Mr. Dyer always stopped at school with my mail.
This brings my mind back to a time before Chester and I met – there was a week’s revival meeting at nights in our school house. At this time we had sand table boxes for the primary department. At this season it was time for the pioneer pilgrim program. We had decorated clothes pins, the old fashioned long pins, dressed as pilgrims. This dashing western young man, Chester Harden, never missed a service, but this evening he was getting more eager to meet the school marm and he slips a pair of pilgrims in his pocket.
Chester, having studied out a plan to meet the school marm, takes the clothes pin figures home with him one evening, puts them in a match box and sews it closed around and around. My thought was that he wants the school marm to know that he can sew! Nevertheless, he added this note. “These little pilgrims became home sick so I thought best to return them.”
I answered back, “They had not been missed, but we were glad to have them back home.”
I well remember a revival meeting that was going on at Sitka. The boys put hay in the bottom of a wagon and covered it over with quilts with covers enough, should be it be cold enough, we could cover our heads over. Sure enough, when we came out from the church – was it ever cold! We had nine miles to drive home.
Now, I wore pin-on glasses that pinched on your nose and pinned on to your dress with a pretty pin with the gold chain that hooked onto the left lens. Some way or another, in covering over with the quilts, this one pulling this way and another one that way, the school marm lost her glasses.
It fell in the dashing young Chester’s place to mount his best pony and at the first light of day he rode this road, leading to Sitka, in search of the young teacher’s glasses, as they were a necessity for her to wear. Luckily enough and determined as he was, he found them –whole and not even broken, so school went on in the usual manner.
The district north of Lexington was taught by Miss Lizzie Brown. She was born and raised in north district and great grandfather Harden had built the school house before nails were used. Lizzie and I had our Christmas programs together. The young people, past school age, also took part in the Caroling and Choir. We had a Christmas tree decorated with glistening ornaments, treats, and plays by the children – and of course a Santa that ended the program with delivering the treats.
Back to our Christmas programs, the practices were at the Brown school. Why I don’t know as this school building was smaller and had fewer pupils. The practice was always at night. The Hardens sent word that three of them would be by and pick me up for practice. At evening they came – Chester came in after me and we went to the Surry – the other two were in the back seat, leaving Chester and I in the front. At last we were off to a start of not only practice, but courtship!
Before he met me Chester and his friend, Kenny, had put in an order early for a case of liquor for Christmas holidays. This one evening we had a date to go to another district to a box supper and debate program. I was at the school house and about 2 p.m. up rode young Chester at a gallop on horseback and called me to come out for a few minutes. He had a good excuse why he couldn’t go – but I don’t remember what that excuse was now as I didn’t mind staying home anyway.
Later I learned the boys’ liquor had come in and on their way to the depot which was twelve miles from Lexington, they had put so much liquor under their belts and Chester knew better than take his straight laced gal to a warm school house with liquor under his belt.
After this little episode, I started going with Fred S., a nice quiet young man and one the Hughs family had picked for me before I arrived in Lexington. So I went on steady with Fred, but all the time knowing my desired one was “Fat” Chester Harden.
A family named Shattuck lived in the Brown district and young Willis Shattuck and Chester Harden were good friends. Willis was just a year or so older than Chester. Willis was brought up on the Shattuck ranch and he practiced law some in Ashland. He had met a Missouri girl from Kansas City who taught in Ashland school. They were married this first term of my school and the surrounding country gave the big chiaveree at the ranch.
Fred took me over in a nice two horse team buggy. Of course all went in Willis’ home for a welcoming to Clark County. So many – I remember I had to sit on a "log" with others. Of course the treats were candy and cigars.
Young spry Chester Harden had gone over with three other young men on horseback. Fred and I were among the first to leave, so we didn’t drive too fast. Here came these horsebackers in a hard gallop and passed us. Then, they would slow down until we passed them, and let us get far enough ahead for them to get up another high speed gallop and by us again they would pass. They kept this up until we turned a mile west to go to my boarding place.
I remember, my boyfriend, Fred said, “Shall we sit in the buggy or go in and visit until the Hughs’ come?”
I said, “Neither, as tomorrow is a school day and I must go in and retire to be fit.”
Not another date was made with Fred, for my mind was fully made up – Chester Harden was for me.
Our courtship started, mine and young Chet’s dating started with the Christmas practicing programs which combined the Brown School and the Lexington schools for a program. We went steady from then on.
I was not far from the Harden home, Mrs. Harden, we’ll say Agnes, and daughter, Laura, drove a large mare named Polly to a single shaft buggy. They oft times gave me time to bathe, change clothes and would drive down for me on Friday evenings to stay in their home over the week end.
Usually the Hardens had throughout the week end company from Ashland, and all enjoyed at least one big dinner. Agnes was a wonderful “Scotch” cook.
This dashing young Chester was a very busy man on the farm. He had attended Business College in Salina the winter before and he gave me our choice – if we farm or move to town and he work in the bank, as that was what he finished for. I had lived in town so long and seeing this western prairie land extending from east to west and north to south as far as the eye could see, decided the farm would be much more prosperous, so I gave him my answer, “the farm’. I thought I saw a twinkle of happiness in those gray green eyes.
Now, the 1914-15 term was nearing an end. In the country we only had 8 months term. So you see I taught 1913-14 and 1914-15. While teaching in the spring of 1915, I ordered my trousseau along as I could afford it, for Chester had given me a wicker hope chest for Christmas and I gave him a Hamilton watch and chain.
Chester and Rayben were married May 5, 1915 at high noon in the parlor of her parent’s home in Missouri. Agnes and Laura attended the wedding in Missouri. C.E. Harden was unable to attend their wedding due to farming and ranching. Chester and Rayben returned home by train.
I well remember at the Protection depot was father Harden waiting in a cover top Surry, a beautiful span of bays hitched to it. We soon loaded into the Surry and headed north for twelve miles to the Harden home. Here we were heartily welcomed by mother Harden and Laura, for they had come on a few days ahead. The next day an attractive center piece of Chester’s baby wicker buggy and another article or so, were placed in the living room where the neighbor women gathered in for a surprise shower for the bride.
Boy, I was surprised. The gifts were mostly linen, and cooking vessels (utilities). Now we were ready to go to our own four room home and a large screened-in porch. This was beautifully furnished by the groom, nothing lacking. The groom carried me across the threshold door of our own home. Father Harden had bought this well improved 160 acres and given to us as our very own for a wedding gift.
Soon we were in the harvest field cutting with two header barges. A header barge was built with one high slat side and the lower side about wagon side board high, but had a long couplin pole thus the barges were eighteen feet long. It took seven men to run one barge, 2 in the barge to keep wheat heads and straw smooth. One loaded and one drove. One stacker and one scratcher to keep straw on the ground up to the stacker, one header.
Now, I must tell you right now for fear I forget it, how we kept our food cool and from spoiling. We had ice boxes. Ours held 100 pounds of ice and was insulated so it only had to be filled about twice a week. A small pipe ran water out in a bucket which had to be emptied so often or you would mop.
Chester was saved several years after we were married. To be exact, 7 years, I believe. Chester was Superintendent of the Sunday school for a number of years.