Around 130 people, many of them extended family members turned out at The First Families of Sumner County gathering last weekend at Council Hills Christian Church in Peck.
“I did not know my family was this big,” Nick Linhardt, at home from the University of Alabama-Birmingham, said.
Linhardt’s middle name is Bruce. He is named after his grandfather Bruce Walton, of Sumner County, who largely orchestrated the event.
The Waltons were among the first families in what would become Sumner County in 1870. Somehow, the Clewell and Leforce/Turney families met, then helped the Walton family repair a broken wagon wheel. Then, the Waltons resided in a sod house along the bank of the Ninnescah River until a house was built.
“It’s unbelievable that these people left houses, schools, friends...and nothing but grass here and they dug a hole in the ground and lived there for a year,” Bruce Walton said.
Different speakers that Saturday morning talked about ancestors they were assigned to research. Amy Hamilton, Walton’s daughter who was in town from Burbank, California, talked about great, great grandmother, sarah halterman walton, who made the trek from Fort Wayne, Indiana in a covered wagon with her husband, Goldsmith Chanley Walton and their nine children, the youngest of whom was 3-years-old.
“Who was she this woman,” Hamilton asked, “who was probably comfortable and safe in her family home and yet she was somehow willing to pick up her nine children and get in a wagon and trek across the states with nothing but what they could carry in a covered wagon. What kind of strength did that take?”
The idea to move originated with John Francis “Frank” Walton, one of G.C.’s sons from his first wife, Elizabeth, who died when the boy was 5-years-old. In 1861, a 16-year-old Frank Walton enlisted enlisted 1861 at Company B 74th Ohio volunteer infantry during the beginning of the Civil War. After the war, Frank Walton was silver mining in Arizona when he heard about an opportunity to homestead on 160 acres of land in Kansas. He convinced his father, step-mother and other family members to go with him.
“The cool thing about him is he somehow came back here and convinced everyone let’s do this and he’s one of the only reasons that I personally am here and that I exist right now,” Linhardt said.
Karen Sheffield talked about Margaret ellen “Ellie” Walton, the only girl in a family of eight brothers, making the wagon trip to Kansas.
“She was tough, the only girl among 8 brothers,” Sheffield said. “Also she was born in 1862 in the middle of the civil war, one of the most tumultuous times in our country. She came from indiana to Kansas with no shoes. She lived in a sod dugout the first 18 months after they moved here. She cooked, cleaned and sewed for eight brothers, two of whom were cowboys.”
Marjorie Walton Camp, Bruce Walton’s sister, wrote a book, “Our fathers” which women at the First Families event unofficially subtitled “and some outstanding women.”
“It is so important to pass these stories of our families on to the next generation and that’s what we’re doing here today,” Sheffield said.
Hamilton said, “This was important to Dad because he could see the stories disappearing. He was interested in getting us younger ones in there.”
The stories may live on now with interest piqued among the younger generation and the history being digitized. A slideshow with more than 3,200 pictures and newspaper articles about the Walton family was put together.
Walton said the event was “absolutely fantastic. It went extremely well. I’m just so pleased.”