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He was not as rich as the richest man in Holcomb—Mr. He was, however, the community’s most widely known citizen, prominent both there and in Garden City, the close-by county seat, where he had headed the building committee for the newly completed First Methodist Church, an eight-hundred-thousand-dollar edifice.
He was currently chairman of the board of the Garden City Co-Op Equity Exchange, and his name was everywhere respectfully recognized among Midwestern agriculturists, as it was in certain Washington offices, where he had been a member of the Federal Farm Credit Board during the early years of the Eisenhower administration.
Farming is always a chancy business, but in western Kansas its practitioners consider themselves “born gamblers,” for they must contend with an extremely shallow precipitation (the annual average is eighteen inches) and anguishing irrigation problems.
However, the last seven years have been years of droughtless beneficence.
But then, in the earliest hours of that morning in November, a Sunday morning, certain foreign sounds impinged on the normal Holcomb noises—on the keening hysteria of coyotes, the dry scrape of scuttling tumbleweed, the racing, receding wail of locomotive whistles.
At the time, not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them—four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives.
Clutter had brought scarcely credible tidings to tell her husband; with joy she informed him that the source of her misery, so medical opinion had at last decreed, was not in her head hut in her spine—it was a matter of misplaced vertebrae.
The farm ranchers in Finney County, of which Holcomb is a part, have done well; money has been made not from farming alone but also from the exploitation of plentiful natural-gas resources, and its acquisition is reflected in the new school, the comfortable interiors of the farmhouses, the steep and swollen grain elevators.
Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans—in fact, few Kansans—had ever heard of Holcomb.
The eldest daughter, Eveanna, married and the mother of a boy nine months old, lived in northern Illinois but visited Holcomb frequently.
Indeed, she and her family were expected within the fortnight, for her parents planned a sizable Thanksgiving reunion of the Clutter clan (which had its beginnings in Germany; the first immigrant Clutter—or Klotter, as the name was then spelled—arrived here in 1880).