Desperate Seed in the Hays Newspaper
Hays, hometown history influence author
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
His introduction to listening to stories of times gone by began at a young age.
And Jim Gray's love of history blossomed when he came to Fort Hays Kansas State College, now Fort Hays State University, in the late 1960s.
That's part of the reason, he said, that he has such a passion for passing on some of those stories.
Gray, who lives in Geneseo, just a mile south of the Ellsworth County Line in Rice County, plans to be in Hays on Saturday -- weather permitting -- for a book signing for his rendition on the history of Ellsworth's early days.
Gray will sign copies of "Desperate Seed: Ellsworth, Kansas on the Violent Frontier," and visit from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Hastings Books, Music and Video, 3300 Vine.
The book is on sale at Hastings for $21.95 for a soft cover and $34.95 for hardback.
This is the first "full-scaled book" for Gray, who wrote a booklet called "Fort Ellsworth," and also regularly writes for Kansas Cowboy, a newsletter-type tabloid about Old West history that publishes six times a year.
"People who read the Kansas Cowboy have been hounding me to turn some of this information into books," said Gray, a farmer-rancher in Ellsworth and Rice counties in central Kansas. "So I thought that Ellsworth was the logical place to start with."
Part of that reason was because that area is where he was born and raised and returned to after graduating from college in 1972.
Another reason was he couldn't find much for written history about Ellsworth County, and he had a "natural interest for history growing up."
"Down the street from my grandmother was the first school teacher in Geneseo," he said, "and a friend and I would dig her dandelions and she'd pay us a penny a flower."
Even better than the pay, Gray said, were the stories they heard.
"She would tell us stories about early Geneseo, about the founding of the town, and we were kind of mesmerized by that, I guess," he said.
"And," he added, "my dad went to coffee shops and I'd go with him, and I'd listen to old timers' stories. And I loved it."
Gray said he enjoyed writing "Desperate Seed," which consists of 230 pages, so much that he already has begun work on a second -- on the Smoky Hill Trail.
Gray said he had some familiarity with his topic because "Ellsworth and Hays are almost like mirror images of one another."
"They were two of the wildest towns that the Old West ever saw," he said. "The most violent, rip-roaring, make-your-hair-stand-on-end wild west -- you look at Ellsworth and Hays City, and that's it."
He is a distant relative to Buffalo Bill Cody, and he grew up "looking up in that book and seeing how I was related to (Cody)."
Gray said knowing Cody had lived in Hays sparked his interest when he was in college, and he spent a lot of time in Forsyth Library looking up history.
"Going to school at Hays had quite an influence of me," he admitted. "In the early '70s, a lot of the old, historical buildings were still there, and (Historic) Fort Hays was a nice facility. I really had a lot of fun with the history."
Gray thinks those who read his book also will enjoy themselves.
"I was frustrated that no one had never written the history of Ellsworth, and there wasn't a lot to go on," he said. "It was fun to go back to original documentation, land records, court records and bits and pieces that people have written about, family stories.
"This is a chance," he said, "to just step back in time a little bit and make it feel like you're living in those times."