Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Chester and Rayben Hughs Harden

Chester as a baby had curly hair, like siblings Laura and Paul.

Chester with his brother-in-law, Gilbert Coate.

Everyone remembers Chet for his cigar.

Chester (Chet) and Rayben Hughs Harden

Chester Nathan (Chet) Harden was born Nov. 23, 1890, in Lexington Township, the oldest son of Charles and Agnes Gilchrist Harden.

Chet attended Protection High School and then studied banking at a business school in Salina. His father, Charles, owned part of the bank at Protection, but it seems Chet wasn’t suited to the banking life and settled into farming instead.

In 1913 the students at the #U2 School in Lexington got a new “school marm.” She was Miss Rayben Alta Hughs, great niece of one of the school board members. Rayben taught school in Lexington for two years, 1913-15.

Rayben Alta Hughs, daughter of Samuel M. and Lucy Hendricks Hughs of Bois D'Arc, Mo., was born Dec. 12, 1890. She was the youngest of three girls, but later in July of 1893, into this close-knit family came a 10-pound boy they named Webster Wayne – after an evangelist who insisted, "Thou shalt call him Webster." (This being the evangelist's surname.)

Rayben later wrote in a memoir of her youth that, "Early memories were of Missouri forest trees, a natural stone bridge above Sock River one half mile [from] her childhood home, where the neighbor children often met and played. The grapevine swing being the biggest attraction.”

She proved to be an attractive lady with much artistic ability. After a “Revival” meeting held at the schoolhouse, Rayben missed two clothespin dolls from her students’ Pilgrim scene on the sand table. Those dolls had been pilfered by a young Chet who wrapped them up with a note and sent them back to her, saying “These little pilgrims became homesick, so I thought it best to return them.” Rayben had not missed them, but she was, by her own account, charmed by his flirtatious ways.

Two years and many “buggy rides” later, Chester persuaded Rayben to become a farmer’s wife. After the wedding at Rayben’s home in Missouri on May 5, 1915, the young couple began married life on Chet’s farm four miles northwest of Protection. On June 5, 1916, their daughter Amy Margaret Lucille (Lucille) was born. Geraldine Rayben was born March 5, 1920.

The years that passed were busy and happy ones. Chet arose with the sun and ate his evening meals by lamplight. He was able to increase his land holdings, crops were good and more and more cattle were carrying the ‘Rafter H’ brand. When Lucille was six years old and ready for school, their local Bear School had closed, so several of the neighbors bought a small Ford bus to pick up the country children and take them to Protection.

Rayben recalled that there were no paved or graded roads at the time. The bus came for Lucille first in the morning, at 7 a.m., then picked up the other children on the route. So Lucille was the last to be dropped off in the evening, which Chet and Rayben thought was too long a day for her.

“But towards the middle of the term there was an awful mud hole when wet or rainy, just north of the Tinkler home,” Rayben wrote in her memoir. “One morning as [Jack Peacock, the bus driver] came out, he got stuck and turned the bus over. Now, this was too much for Grandfather Harden. C.E. said no more of that, Chester. A nice residence just west of C.E.'s home was for sale, and he would buy it and we would move to town."

Then came the hard times, years of drought, blowing dust, and low cattle prices. It took a lot of courage and faith to farm during these times. Their little girls had grown into young ladies, ready for college, and soon to set up households of their own. Lucille married George Bratcher, and Geraldine became Mrs. Robert Helman. The drought ended, crops were good, cattle prices were better and the farmer was cheerful and confident once again. Life was good.

Chet was a member of the Bit and Spur Club at Protection. They sponsored the annual rodeo and also organized the “Pow Wows.” Chet was president of the club in 1957 when the club put on the Polio Pow Wow to celebrate that the town of Protection was “100% protected” from polio. The celebration was covered by the national news media and included a newsreel of the parade, which was shown all over the world.

Ruth Bratcher, Chet’s granddaughter-in-law, who married his grandson Chester Ray Bratcher, recalled meeting him for the first time during one of these Pow Wows.

“The first time I actually met my husband Chet's grandfather, I was a mere 15 years old, Pow-Wow day, on the back of Chester's favorite horse! His first words to us were, 'Have you watered the horse today? I think you'd better put him in the barn and hoof it back to town'! Needless to say, besides being a very big man and sounding so gruff, I immediately knew I was not only scared of him, but respectful! Then, several years later, I married his grandson, and I found out he could be a kind and gentle man, IF you didn't cross him!”

Ruth recalled what an active and determined man Chet was: “I had worked hard on establishing a lawn, not an easy feat with Chinese elms everywhere. [One] particular summer, my dear husband decided to raise baby pigs. Everyone from a farm knows you cannot keep baby pigs penned! They immediately rooted under my nice woven wood fence and proceeded to demolish my yard. Chester would have none of this. Out he comes with barbed wire, wire cutters, and on hands and knees, he proceeded to fence out those naughty little piglets. He had to have been at least 70 years old then, and I marveled at him and was so grateful. That yard was not small, and I know now, being about that age, that it was no small job! He also could ride a horse like a young man till he was in his upper 70s and always helped with round-ups.

“But, those first years on the farm kept Chet and I both worn out! Chester would come sliding into the place (and I DO mean sliding!), rounding the drive-way at at least 6:30 a.m. If Chet wasn't out and about, he was at our door! After getting us started, he oft-times went back to town, took a nap, had lunch, and was back out at 12:30 to see that we were back at it again! My husband took blood-pressure meds from the time that he was about 28 – could this life-style have had anything to do with that? ”Sometimes, Chester would come in, sit a spell, and would love to see the great-grandkids wrestle! He would promote this! A really good thing, when I was trying to get them down for a nap. He always bet on Angela, as you know how he favored girls!

And are any of you familiar with riding with him in his car? It was definitely an experience! The fast driving, then the creeping-along driving, no air-conditioning on because he was spitting tobacco out the window! If you were in the back seat, watch out! You might get a face full!”

Chet loved his great-grandchildren, Ruth said, and he taught them to ride and bought them cowboy boots for Christmas. He liked to play jokes on his family.

“Chester was a true character – our mentor, good or bad! – and we truly loved him and Rayben. We owed so much to them in our lives,” Ruth said.

Chet and Rayben’s retirement years were filled with happy times, with four grandsons: Chester Ray and Stanley Warren Bratcher and Stephen and Phillip Helman, as well as their eventual great-grandchildren. The trips they went on took them all over this continent. At home, Rayben’s yard showed her green thumb, and as she grew older she studied art. She was adept in her work and generous in sharing her talent. She wrote “My Life’s Story, 1890-1973,” in which she describes in detail her courtship with Chet.

The old farm homestead was turned over to their oldest grandson, Chester Ray Bratcher, and through his years Chet Harden remained interested in farming and ranching, in his horses, and community projects. Chester and Rayben enjoyed more than 61 years of married life together before Rayben passed away on July 26, 1976.

Chet died Oct. 14, 1987. At the time, he was the oldest native-born Lexingtonian left alive. Chester and Rayben Harden are buried at the Protection Cemetery.

Chet with his daughter, Geraldine, at a Pow Wow.

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