Several years ago, I sat in the living room of my in-laws, Harry and Helen Edwards and read from an old book of family history that my sister-in-law had handed me. A portion of the book told the story of Helen’s great grandfather, Rev. Simeon Swartz. Because of my interest in genealogy, I was immediately engrossed in his story. Helen’s ancestors had their strength, courage and faith tested and proven many times.
The story that Simeon told was about a time soon after he and his wife, Sarah brought their family to Kansas, in 1874. Simeon was a minister and trusted God to guide and protect them in their homesteading venture as they were headed into an area that had a reputation for being dangerous. Many times they prayed and then relied on God; asking Him to guide their journey and give them direction in their lives. A few months after settling in Rice County, they had already experienced the ups and downs of life on the prairie. A good corn crop had disappeared in three days, eaten by a huge cloud of grasshoppers. In the weeks that followed this life-threatening and hunger-producing disaster, Simeon placed his focus on God, scripture and prayer. After an entire week of seeking God, a mysterious thought came and settled in his mind. He felt that God was telling him to dig a cave on their land. The idea wouldn’t go away but instead grew stronger. He and his family dug the ten by twenty foot cave, amid questions from neighbors and friends. “What do you expect to do with a cave?” they asked. The only reply Simeon had for them was, “I might need it sometime.” The act of obeying what they believed God had asked of them relieved the feeling of despair and renewed their faith and courage to face what they thought might be a bleak future.
The cave was finished in September, 1874 and, between rainstorms, Simeon and his neighbors built the Swartz family a sod house. The settlers prepared the soil, once more, for a crop of wheat. In October, the men set off to hunt buffalo down in Oklahoma, hoping to replace the food the grasshoppers had devoured. They returned home four weeks later, in time to celebrate the holidays with their families, bringing buffalo meat, one man with his arm in a sling from an accidental shooting but minus two horses, poisoned by bad water.
Eight days into 1875, the weather turned cold. At twenty degrees below zero, it was colder than any other time Simeon ever experienced in the many years since. Along with the frigid air came snow in blizzard amounts. Sometime, during that cold night, the raging wind carried the roof of the sod house up and away, leaving the family exposed to the blinding snow. It was their fourteen year-old son, Charles, who snapped them out of the shock and dismay of their situation by yelling for everyone to run for the cave.
For the next three weeks of that cold January in 1875, the cave was their home. They waited for the snow to clear and thanked God for His providential care. Simeon didn’t give much of a clue in his story about what those three weeks were like. We don’t get to know what they ate, how they stayed warm or how they spent their days but I can imagine that God took care of that, too.
It was nearly February, that winter of 1875, before the weather cleared enough for neighbors to help Simeon repair the roof on their soddy. They thanked God that they had the cave when it was needed and that they had listened to and obeyed God despite their doubts and the questions of their neighbors.