Family Story


In 1984, Cornelia Davis donated her family’s cummerbund, together with a complete mourning outfit, to Kansas State University’s Historic Costume and Textile Museum. The record of the cummerbund states Cornelia donated the item on behalf of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. O.B. Burtis. Orville Brown Burtis and his wife, Gertrude Harling, were prominent citizens of Manhattan, Kansas, hobnobbing with the likes of Dan Casement, a respected and well-known stockman and a founding member of the American Quarter Horse Association.

Orville was born in Fredonia, Kansas, on June 13, 1892, to Walter and Winifred Burtis. In his teens he attended the Kansas State Agricultural College with his younger sister Wilma. Orville was heavily involved during his stint at KSAC. He was a member of the Aztex fraternity, the Student Council, and he was the Cadet Colonel of the regimental troops. He majored in animal husbandry, which would later aid in his career as a stockman and rancher (Royal Purple). In 1917, at the age of twenty-five, Orville enlisted in the World War I draft. The registration card, filled out by Burtis, states that he was a self-employed farmer, probably working for his father, and unmarried, as of then. He was a man of medium height and weight with dark brown hair and brown eyes (Registration Card). About a year later, Orville was married to Gertrude Harling.

Gertrude Elisabeth Harling was born October 30, 1897, to parents Walter and Elisabeth Harling, hailing from London, England. Her parents migrated to the United States, specifically to Lehi, Utah, before the birth of their children. Gertrude was the last of three children born to the Harlings; Miriam and Faith were her two older sisters (Census).

Gertrude attended Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, a university that prides itself on its history of admittance and acceptance of women and black students, at the same time that her future husband was attending KSAC (“Washburn”). After graduation, she would go on to marry Orville and become a Burtis.

Orville and Gertrude were married in 1918. They soon settled down in Manhattan, Kansas, with Orville’s family. The 1920 United States Federal Census notes that Walter J. Burtis is the head of the Burtis clan. His son Orville (Orval in the census) and his wife are both part of the Burtis household, living and working on the family farm. The family is listed as being able to read and write. This ability could be attributed to the upper middle class status of the family. Walter Burtis owned land and managed a home farm, which would later inspire his son to continue the family trade.

According to the 1925 United States Federal Census, Orville and Gertrude owned their own farm and had already three of their children, Orville Jr., Cornelia, and David. Orville’s occupation is listed as being a stockman in addition to being a farmer.

The Burtis family home, for a time, was the Dewey Ranch. Orville leased the land for his growing family. His daughter, Karen Burtis Butler, wrote an article for the Bison and Bluestem journal about her experiences on the family farm. “In the summer there were enumerable picnics, either in the yard or across the creek to the east. I remember good storytelling, singing until the moon came up, just visiting and finishing the hand cranked ice cream” (6). On the farm, there was never a lack of adventure or chores for the young children. For Karen and her sister, Cornelia, helping their mother with housework was a daily task. Karen’s earliest jobs included gathering eggs, dusting, and washing dishes. Their mother spent most of her time preparing three meals a day for the family and guests. Karen noted that the Burtis household always had guests: 

Mother and Dad also took in several older, single, women who needed a home and could help with household duties. Then there were young gals who came because they wanted to ride horses, but reluctantly, had to work inside first. At various times, the big room on the third floor housed young families and a couple of newlywed college students. “Residents” came and went, keeping the house full much of the time. (Burtis Butler 6)

The household was full of visitors and hired ranch hands. The Dewey Ranch was a home for the Burtis family as well as a home away from home for all of the additional friends on the land. For fun, the family would play card games, roast marshmallows in the fireplace, and square dance. These Saturday night square dances would often lead to Sunday morning church sermons. A community formed around the Ashland Church (which is now vacant) and the Dewey Ranch.

The Burtis family name became well known in Manhattan, Kansas. Orville Burtis and Dan Casement, a Manhattan cattleman, were fellow businessmen and great friends. Casement was the main force behind Orville becoming President of the American Quarter Horse Association. In 1953, Orville was elected as the President of AQHA and served two terms. He bred and owned his quarter horses. His standing in society was higher than other farmers because he was a both a farmer and stockman. He provided horses and cattle to surrounding farmers (“Orville Burtis”).

Family Story