May 24, 1844. Samuel F. B. Morse hesitates for a moment, then keys, “What hath God wrought?” His message flies from Washington to Baltimore and ushers in the era of the telegraph in the United States.
Labette County, Kansas, 1869. In the western part of Labette County lies Pumpkin Valley. Once, it was home to the Osage who named it “Neosho Kihoshinkah Wahoostha” after a fall when they had nothing to eat but stewed pumpkins. By the year 1869 the Osage have moved away and the first building in the new town of Mound Valley rises out of the plains.
Christmas Day, 1872. “All aboard!” The last passenger takes his seat and the train pulls away from Fort Riley, Kansas heading southward on the MKT, the Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad, nicknamed the Katy. The passenger hardly notices the infant community of Mound Valley as his train rolls by it. He knows that he will soon pass through Indian Territory. He may even know that Congress overstepped its power by granting right of way to the MKT through land belonging to Native Americans in order to shorten the link to Texas, but if he does know, he doesn’t care. Finally, he crosses the Red River and pulls into the Denison depot. It is the end of the line, and he is the first passenger to disembark on the Katy’s inaugural run into Texas.
January 31, 1890. A little girl named Eva Mixon is born in Livingston, Texas. Her father cuts ties for the railroads.
Dallas, 1907. Eva finishes school in East Texas and in the year 1907, at the age of seventeen, she takes a job in Dallas with Western Union. She works there for nine years as a telegraph operator. She also meets a young man named Wilbur Schuler and they become good friends.
Mound Valley, 1916. Eva is spunky and neither Dallas nor Wilbur can curtail her craving for adventure. The Katy Railroad needs telegraph operators up the line, so she says farewell to the city lights and her beau, signs on with the railroad and hops the northbound train to Mound Valley, Kansas. It is a small but thriving town of 899 when she arrives at the age of 26. Her new job is a lonely one and full of responsibility. She manages all the passenger and freight trains coming through town and also acts as telegraph operator.
Eva’s favorite story. She often drew the solitary midnight to morning shift and once, in the black of night, she watched as a coffin was unloaded and stored in her depot. “I saw the coffin unloaded. Later I heard a scratching and moaning sound coming from the freight room.” She wanted to run, but she manned her post until the next morning when a customer called and asked, “Did the train leave a pig there for me?” This was one of Eva’s favorite memories, and her eyes twinkled and she laughed as she told it.
Epilogue. Eva managed the Mound Valley depot for two years, all the while staying in touch with Wilbur. They kept a joint diary together; Eva made entries for a month and then sent the diary to Wilbur so he could add his thoughts for a while. At the end of her two year adventure in Kansas, Eva returned to Dallas and in 1919 she married Wilbur.
Eva and Wilbur were my grandparents, and we still have their diary.