Who lived on the land you grew up on before you were born?
That was the question to which Florence Schloneger sought an answer as she handled the sale of land that had belonged to her family for five generations. Schloneger will speak about the relationship between land and people at the 10:35 a.m. session of Life Enrichment on Feb. 13 at Bethel College in North Newton.
Schloneger's great-grandfather, Heinrich Groneman, bought a half-section of land in the extreme southeast corner of McPherson County, bordering Harvey and Marion counties.
"In 1879, he came from Germany by way of Minnesota," Schloneger said. "I guess it was too cold there, so he came here."
Several years earlier, the land was part of the southwestern edge of hunting grounds for the Kanza tribe. The Kanza, who were also called the Kaw, had been forced out of Kansas to Indian Territory in Oklahoma.
Schloneger remembers the buffalo wallows and creek that were part of her family's homestead.
"I can imagine it would have been a neat place to camp and hunt," Schloneger said.
The Gronemans farmed the land, growing wheat, soybeans and milo along with raising cattle, hogs, chickens and sheep over the decades.
"Our homestead, where we lived, was a virgin pasture and so the sheep were on that pasture," Schloneger said. "We had a llama and a sheep dog to keep them safe."
Heinrich Groneman's son, Adolph, added between 800 and 900 acres to his father's land, according to Schloneger. Adolph's daughter, Lena, helped with the business side of the farm and married Joseph Rodgers. The couple had one child, Lloyd Rodgers, who was Schloneger's father.
Some of the Groneman land was sold after Lena Rodgers' death in 1980; even more was sold along with the homestead after Lloyd Rodgers' death in 1993.
"There was great pride in this land and our history, but that has come to an end," Schloneger said.
Last year, nearly 475 acres were sold, leaving Schloneger's brothers with 69 acres — a small fraction of the nearly 1,200 acres the family once owned.
"My personal connection with the land was severed and I was doing some grieving about that," Schloneger said. "...I started wondering, 'who lived on this land before we did?' and so I started doing a lot of research."
Finding the land was part of the Kanza's hunting grounds, Schloneger contacted Karin Kaufman Wall of Mennonite Central Committee, who put her in touch with Pauline Sharp, the granddaughter of a former Kanza chief and the secretary/treasurer for the Kanza Heritage Society.
"The most wonderful thing has been the personal connections I've made that I value highly," Schloneger said.
After meeting with Sharp and Kanza Heritage Society President Jim Pepper Henry, and learning that the Kanza tribe had shrunk to the point of giving away their sacred objects to another tribe, Schloneger donated part of the money from the sale of her family's land to the Kanza Heritage Society.
"I became convinced that I wanted to do something to somehow acknowledge that this land that was ours, that we loved all these generations and called home ... it actually had been taken from the Kanza," Schloneger said.
Sharp said the donation will be used to preserve the culture, history and heritage of the Kanza people in Kansas.
"This is a historic event for the Kanza People," Sharp said. "I am honored and humbled for the
opportunity to participate in this symbolic act of reparation and reconciliation. The history of the Kanza People is forever intertwined with the heritage of Kansas. ...It has been a long, treacherous journey over several generations to reach the point where we are today. I am proud of our resilient people
and I am grateful for the friends and allies we have had along the way."
"They didn't own the land; they were part of it," Schloneger said. "...We're just a little piece of a much larger story."
As they interacted, Schloneger and Sharp — two women from two very different backgrounds — quickly became good friends.
"An additional blessing on this journey has been the friendships I've developed in the Mennonite community and (with) Florence in particular," Sharp said.
Schloneger admitted she did not know how the land reparation donation would be perceived by her ancestors; the generations who came before her who thought land was only being used if it was actively farmed.
"I'm not sure what they would think about me doing this. They might not think it was necessary, but they haven't done the research," Schloneger said.
Participating in a poetry class gave Schloneger a way to express her feelings about the acres that provided for her family and many others who came before them.
"I started writing this long poem about land and people and it became the story of the Kaw — the search for finding who lived here before," Schloneger said. "In one of my poems, I mention the fact that mom read us stories a lot — Bible stories, stories about our Mennonite ancestors and the traumas they went through — but there was not one story about the Kaw."
Schloneger will share those poems — free verse about the land and sonnets about the people — along with accompanying images selected by her husband, Weldon.
"It's a story of grief and searching and trying to find a way to say 'we are all one people and this land belongs to all of us,'" Schloneger said.