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  • Writer's pictureGregory Winters

The Kansas Wayts: Part 2

Updated: Feb 23, 2021

This is a story told to me by my Grandfather, George Wayts as it was told to him by his father, James Andrew Wayts. It's one of the adventures James Andrew had getting to Abilene, Kansas. - Nancy Wayts Ayers

Wayts Christmas, 1910 in Abilene, Kansas. L-R around the table: Hall is "Hal" Wayts, Laura Doake Wayts, George Wayts, Anna D. Elwick Wayts, John Lowrey, Maggie Sarah Wayts Lowrey, Nellie Wayts, James Andrew Wayts, and Barbara Ellen Wayts Gill, wife of John Gill who possibly took this photo. Seated in front are Paul Wayts and Margaret Wayts. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Wayts Ayers)

"There were no jobs in Decatur, Illinois after the Civil War, and no money for a single man to buy a farm and marry. James, who was always good with horses and cattle, decided to go to Texas and get in on the cattle drives going to Kansas. In 1867, Abilene, Kansas was the terminal point of the Kansas Pacific (later the Union Pacific) Railroad and the nearest railhead for the shipment of cattle brought North over the Chisholm Trail. The number of cattle shipped East from here between 1867 and 1871 has been estimated at more than one million, and often 500 cowboys were paid off at a time. City marshals Tom Smith and Wild Bill Hickok brought in law and order in the 1870's.

"James Andrew had at least one other person (possibly two) from Decatur go with him to Texas. (I think they were his brothers-in-law, John Lowery and John Gill but I am not positive about the names. Also, I think we may have already had Wayt kin living in Texas during this time.) They were with a large herd coming from San Antonio, Texas to Abilene and were in the vicinity to the Republican River when a wild, dark, electrical storm hit. Wind blowing, dirt flying, thunder booming and lightening flashing, the herd went from restless to near panic.

James Andrew had seen blue fire before, so he knew what it was...

"The cowboys kept the cattle in a slow moving circle (perhaps a mile or more across there were so many) trying to quiet them, then the worst happened. A lightening bolt hit in the middle of the herd and blue fire started rolling across their horns. These were Texas longhorns with horns about six feet from tip to tip. The stampede was on, there was no way to control or stop them.

James Andrew had seen blue fire before so he knew what it was, said it was about the size of a golf ball, was blue and made a sizzling sound, almost all the cattle had these balls of plasma rolling across their horns. He said it didn't last but maybe a minute or two but in the meantime the herd went crazy, they were running full tilt and nothing would stop them. James Andrew always had a good, fast horse and evidently the others did, too, as they all made it out alive to tell the story. It took them several hours to get the cattle rounded up again and somewhat calmed down, they did eventually make it to Abilene.

"I don't know how many cattle drives James Andrew went on, but this one may have been enough. He liked Abilene and bought property there. Then he went back to Decatur, Illinois and married his true love, Laura Doake, then an entire wagon train of people from Decatur moved to Abilene. (I often wondered why they didn't take the train, but James Andrew's wagon was pulled by oxen to Kansas.)

"I've seen blue fire myself when we lived in Arkansas. We had a wood cookstove in the kitchen and it came down the stovepipe, blew off one of the round lids, the traveled through the kitchen into the living room and out the window. Never did hurt anything, but it smelled strange."

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