Simeon's Cave; Stepping Out in Faith - Entire Story


Harry and Helen (Acker) Edwards in the last home Harry built
Several years ago, on a Sunday afternoon in Wichita, Kansas, I sat in the living room of my in-laws, Harry and Helen Edwards. I read from an old family history book that my sister-in-law had handed me. An autobiography that filled a chapter of the book was written by Helen’s great grandfather, Rev. Simeon Swartz and his children. Because of my interest in genealogy, I was immediately engrossed in Simeon’s story. As I read, I learned that Helen’s ancestors had their strength, courage and faith tested and proven much like the early members of my family, and the same as people sometimes are today.


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 The story that Simeon told was about a time soon after he and his wife, Sarah, brought their family from Woodford County, Illinois to Kansas in 1874. Simeon was a minister and he and Sarah 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 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 baby had been born to them that summer and had died nine days later. A good corn crop had disappeared in three days, eaten by a huge cloud of grasshoppers. In the weeks that followed these heart-breaking, life-threatening, hunger-producing disasters, Simeon focused 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.

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Four days into 2005, Harry and Helen sat in their living room watching through the window as an ice storm cover the world outside their house. Harry maneuvered his wheelchair to get a closer look into the darkness while Helen stood near him. They talked about whether or not the storm would cause them any problems. Harry had been in a wheelchair for more than a year, ever since a stroke had left one side of his body paralyzed while sparing his speech and mind. Helen cared for him by herself for much of the last year. They were getting close to their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary and were thankful that God had allowed them to continue to stay in their home. Reluctant to leave the house that Harry designed and built when their family was young, they had decided to make this situation work. Anything else would signal the end of one chapter of their lives and the beginning of one they weren’t ready for.
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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 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.

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The freezing rain in Wichita, on that cold evening in 2005, turned to ice around the electrical lines beyond the view of the living room window and, before it was time for bed, the lights blinked throughout the house and went out, along with the furnace, leaving their home dark and growing cold. They had become accustomed to the electric wheelchair that helped Harry move around the main floor and the thought of the battery running low and needing to be plugged in for the next day urged them to get Harry out of the chair and into bed where he could try to stay warm. Surely the electricity would be back on by morning. No doubt there were prayers asking for safety for themselves but also for their family, before they fell asleep. The storm raged on into the dark hours of the night and the once cozy home turned cold. Even in the 21st Century there can be a pioneer moment.
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Charley Swartz and his family
Eight days into 1875, the weather turned cold. At twenty degrees below zero, it was colder than any other time Simeon experienced in the many years since that cold night. Along with the frigid air came snow in blizzard amounts. Sometime during the 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, Charley, who snapped them out of the shock and dismay of their situation by yelling for everyone to run for the cave.

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When Harry and Helen woke on that cold, 5th day of January, the realization that life might be a little more difficult for awhile set in quickly. The temperature outside hadn’t risen and the inside temperature had dropped at least 30 degrees. With no electricity, the only option for Harry was his old wheelchair. Helen would have to push him for now; an enormous drop in his already diminished freedom. Bundled in coats, they made their way into the “not so cozy” living room. Helen rummaged in the kitchen for something they could eat without cooking. The rest of the day was filled with sitting, mostly in silence because of the cold. They recalled the firewood sitting neatly outside their house that would now be so helpful. At the time that they acquired it, it hadn’t seemed like such a blessing. It was red bud wood from the tree Helen had accidentally backed into a few months before, leading to the chopping down of the tree and the splitting and stacking of wood. Now, it was simple to see that God had provided fuel for the fireplace.

The events of the days of that week ran together for Harry and Helen. They slept, bundled in their clothes, coats, and blankets, and hoped for the electrical lines to be repaired before morning. They waited for lights, warmth and conveniences to return to their lives, along with thousands of other people across the city. The neighbor, next door, made trips each day to stack more of the red bud on the front porch so Helen could bring it in to keep the fire going. Family called them on their old-fashioned rotary telephone that they had held onto for so long, to check on them. Most people had abandoned their freezing homes, for warmer shelter, after the first few days as they waited for the lines to be repaired. That wasn’t an option for Harry because of the thick ice that still coated his wheelchair ramp.

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The blizzard raged on for three days and nights and for the next three weeks of that cold January in 1875, the cave was their home. There was dried buffalo meat and a crock of corn mush, that Sarah had prepared the night before the storm, that satisfied their hunger. Simeon and his family ventured out to the sod house several times to search out things that they needed. It meant digging through five feet of snow that had settled into the four walls of their home. Digging out the cook stove allowed them some hot water and warm food cooked under the open sky. They waited for the weather to clear and thanked God for His providential care in urging them to dig the cave months before.

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Every morning, Helen found the wood for their fire that was put there by their neighbor. They tired of cold food and began cooking warm food in a coffee can by placing it in the coals with a pair of pliers. The neighbor continued to leave wood and Helen learned how to cook at the hearth like a pioneer woman might have many years ago.


It was several days before the ice cleared enough for me to make it the 23 miles from my house to theirs to check on them and bring them a warm drink. Every phone visit had begun with the hope that the electric crews would reach their house that day, along with a firm declaration that they were doing fine. I found them in good spirits and watched as Helen showed me how they were cooking their food. The house was so cold I shivered the entire visit. Sixty five years together had made them good partners in this kind of adventure. I talked about finding a way to get them out of the house and into a shelter, but they were satisfied to wait where they were. Little did we know then that they would wait an entire week before the electricity would be repaired to their house. That winter, I discovered that the pioneer spirit is alive and well, more than a hundred years after wagons carried settlers to homesteads across Kansas.

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It was nearly February, that winter of 1875, before the snow cleared enough for neighbors to help Simeon repair the roof on their soddy. The Swartz family thanked God that they had the cave when it was needed and that they had listened to and obeyed God despite the questions and doubts of their neighbors.

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One hundred thirty years separate the blizzard of 1875 and the ice storm of 2005. The same years span the distance between Simeon and his great granddaughter, Helen. The difference in strength, courage, and faith between Helen and her great grandfather, Simeon Swartz, is far less.


Simeon’s story was taken from events recorded in
Simeon Swartz Family History: 1727 Ancestors to 1958 Descendents by Orvo Swartz


1 comment:

  1. Sarah Swartz was my great-grandfather's sister. During a random photo shoot at a local cemetery, I came across her daughter, Mary Jefferies. I hadn't traced Sarah's line yet so I didn't recognize her name. When I went to research the headstone, I did recognize her parents' names and knew I had found a Wichita connection.

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