Dr. Robert F. Furnas, 1830-1901
Sketch by Diana Bouton
By 1873 Robert Furnas had realized handsome returns for some years from the large family farm he managed in partnership with his father. He also played an active roll in the administration of the Quaker Miami Monthly Meeting (Orthodox). He was a devoted husband and father to a rambunctious brood of eight children. That year he celebrated his 43rd birthday. Certainly most men begin to contemplate retirement at forty three. Instead, 1873 was the year Robert Furnas entered medical school. Mid-life career changes are common in today's world, but even today to undertake a career change involving the mental and physical challenge presented by four years of such grueling study is indeed exceptional. Yet this is exactly what Robert Furnas chose to do with his life. He went on to establish a busy and successful homeopathic medical practice where he worked until his death in 1901. This intellectual energy has made him a legend in Furnas family lore.
Robert was born in Wayne Township, Ohio on October 10th, 1830, just about the time President Andrew Jackson began moving Indians onto reservations by signing the Indian Removal Act. Robert's parents were Seth and Diana (Kindley) Furnas. They inherited both a strong Quaker heritage and the prime farm acreage originally purchased by Robert's grandparents (Robert Furnas, Sr. & Hannah Wilson Furnas).
Robert Furnas, Sr. (1762-1852),
Dr. Robert F. Furnas' Grandfather
"RobertFurnas was born June 27, 1762 at Bush River, South Carolina, son of John and Mary (Wilkinson) Furnas. He married Hannah Wilson in 1796. They had eleven children. In 1803 they came from Pine Creek Meeting, South Carolina to Waynesville, Ohio. He was Clerk of Monthly Meeting. Also, village blacksmith, surveyor, physician and surgion. He drew wills and contracts for which he accepted no pay. He ws very punctual and sat at the head of Caesar's Creek Meeting. Plain in his dress." (Taken from The Dictionary of Quaker Biography located in the Quaker Collection of Haverford College, Philadelphia).
The picture above is of Seth and Dinah (Kindley) Furnas and their
two sons, Davis Furnas (left) and Robert F. Furnas (Right).
Young Robert grew up working alongside his father on the farm enduring the hardships involved in opening the frontier and attended the local school held in a log cabin. Indians roamed the forests and the howling of wolves was a nightly occurrence. Wild game of all kinds was plentiful and in that day provided a mojor source of sustenance and sometimes served as the main provision against hunger and even starvation.
He remained helping to work his parent's farm until the age of 22 when in 1857 he married Bethiah Mosier (usually spelled Mosher). she was one of nine sisters and two brothers, the children of Robert and Edith (Nichols) Mosier (Mosher). Also Quakers, the Mosiers came from New York State and owned a large and prosperous farm nearby. Robert and Bethiah had eight children, five of which survived to adulthood. Robert engaged in farming and the raising and edealing in stock for about twenty years. During this period he constructed several beautiful pieces of cherry wood furniture. A canopy bed, large dresser and nightstand still remain in the family. In 1873 he turned his attention to medicine and attended the Pulte Medical College in Cincinnati, graduating in 1877. He practiced as a homeopathic physician and surgeon throughout the early 1880's. His office was located two doors south of the Harris Bank which was replaced by the United Telephone Company builid in 1973.
The concept of a utopian society or intentional community which attempted to create "a heaven on earth" was a constant intellectural subject in the literature and press of the day. Dr. Furnas' fertile imagination was obviously fired by such a concept. Perhaps uncomfortable with his own growing affluence as a physician and inspired by the success of other utiopian societies, he convince, cajoled, and coereced until he had an intrepid band of souls ready to follow him into the plains of Kansas here to create the perfect world. Comprised of a vastness conducive to the isolation necesasary for a nascent society to grow unpolluted, Kansas was the perfect choice. It was only when the fertile soil of the praire grasslands turned to dust in the great grought of the 1890's that the economic underpinnings of Dr. Furnas' great experiment gave way. We have no record of the structure of his society.
This experiment is mentioned in Quakers on the American Frontier by Errol T. Elliott (Richmond, Indiana: The Friends United Press, 1969), pp. 142-143.
"An example of Quaker colonizing with its risks and failures was one led by John Franklin Moore, brother of Joseph Moore of North Carolina and Indiana fame. About twelve Indiana families settled in Stevens county south of Hugoton, near the Oklahoma border. They named their new settlement Lafayette, for the Indiana city, favorite of John Moore.
Lumber was brough one hundred miles by wagons from Garden City. Here John Moore erected a building that served as a store, a post office, a schoolroom, and a meeting room on the lower floor, with an office for Dr. Furnas, and with living quarters upstairs. A Day School land a sunday School were taught by Lydia Ann Wilson. John Moore and Lydia Ann Wilson were married here.
The little settlement could not succeed in the hard times that came with drouth hot winds, and grasshoppers in teh summer and with freezing winds of the winter. Crops failed and in one very severe winter their cattle froze on the range. The settlement was disbanded, and for several years one lone building with the name Lafayette on it stood in a kind of grandeur on the flat, far-sweeping prairie whcih the little Quaker community was not prepared to conquer."
The only record exisiting of that time comes from the recollections of Edith Furnas Davis, a granddaughter of Robert and Bethiah Furnas. She descirbed her grandparents sojourn into Kansas in a book entitled: Chosen Land ~ Barbar County, Kansas:
"My great-grandfather Furnas was a doctor in Stevens Co. during the early history of Kansas, practicing at Lafayette, a town which was organized in late 1886 by a group of Friends, also know as Quakers, earnest hard-working people. Dr. Robert Furnas, like all early day physicians, rode horseback, or drove a buggy many long weary miles in answer to calls thae came at all hours, in all kinds of weather. Mrs. Furnas, a very active church worker and strong prohibitionist, produced plays and encouraged young people to take part. She, being well education, good personality, and always dressed in Quaker garments, was highly respected. Their home is still remembered as the one with the 'buffalo bone fense' around it. My father spent many summers with his grandfahter, Doctor Furnas, and was there during one toof the dreaded early day "praire fires'. After fighting for two days and nights, with little or no food, in his weakened condition, he fell face downward into the fire, as he tired to jump cross it. But Dr. Furnas brought him through it without a scar on his face and only a few on his hands!"