Early Iowa settlers - The edge of the timbers

Story told on August 27, 1936 by Mrs. Matilda Kennett at the age of 97.

By Marti Talbot

I came to Green County, Iowa with my parents, brothers and sisters in the spring of 1852. We settled in the edge of the timber where my father bought seven hundred acres of land at two dollars an acre. What fine rich land it was. Everything grew so big. We had all kinds of wild game, fish and wild fruits, but very little money. Our nearest trading post was Des Moines - a little less than one hundred miles distance. With horses and bad roads, the trip was quite an undertaking.

When we first came, there were no neighbors, no schools and no churches within miles of our home. We would get very lonely, especially on Sundays as we were raised by Quaker parents and Sunday was indeed a sacred day. As time passed, people began to take up the land. Weren't we glad when we could have playmates. My father had law books and could help people in taking up the land. Father also knew all the stars and their locations in the sky. Therefore, he could not get confused as to where he was after night if the stars were shining. If night overtook you on a trip, you had no guide but the stars -- no fences, no towns, no farm houses with lighted windows to guide you. Just open prairie.

We dried and preserved our fruits and as sugar was so high, Mother used to take the watermelon juice and boil it down -- they were such big sweet melons. Musk melon was then cooked in the juice and made lovely muskmelon butter for our bread. Finally, Father got some cane seed. Since necessity is the mother of invention my father made a cane mill. Then we had sorghum to sweeten our food and were we happy to see it.

Father built our log cabin. It was one large room with a fire place in the end. Our beds were in the other end with sheeting draped around each bed to give us a little privacy. Everything was kept clean and shining. We wove all the material for our clothing, knit our stockings and the men's socks. Mother and we girls braided oat straw to make hats. We braided with four straws one of which mother had dyed black before beginning the braiding. The straws were spliced together with no rough edges showing. We made hats for neighbors, too, getting fifty cents apiece for them. We also made cord and clothes lines out of tow from retted flax. This material was very strong.

Father tanned the leather and made all our shoes. Weren't we proud when we got a new pair of shoes. When Father made the trips to Des Moines he would get we children copy books. We had a cousin who did beautiful writing and spelling. I became able to write a good plain hand and to read well. Of course, the first years were the hardest with so little stock. We had to get oxen teams to break up the new ground since horses could not stand such hard work.

Fever and ague were bad and how we would chill and shake. Our teeth would rattle. Soon we would become burning hot with fever. One little brother age five, died.

In April 1860, soon after I was married, my husband, myself and two year old twin girls, my parents, brother and a sister with a few friends started 'West' to get rich in the gold mines. We were not very successful. There came a sickness and my sixteen year old Brother and my eight year old sister died in Colorado. Before they passed away, they begged my parents not to leave them out there in those mountains. Father made strong boxes and brought them back to Iowa. My older brother drove a wagon all the way back with the other men. That long, lonely, sad and slow journey.

There were five wagons in the train. The Indians on the way did not molest us enough to cause great alarm, although we were really frightened a number of times. When we reached Denver which was then little more than a fort, we, with a large number of others, were detained a few days on account of the hostilities of the red men.

Contagious diseases among the children were terrible and the doctors then did not know how to handle the situations. Therefore, most every family would lose two, three and even four children. Also, the doctor had to drive so far with horses to reach a home.

Well, we had our sorrows and our joys; hardships and good times. Hardships that would seem great indeed today; but, we were taught to work and to make the best of everything as it came along. We were thankful for our blessing, too. By our hardships and sacrifices we were made strong and brave. Hardships gave us this lovely country with all its beauty and conveniences that can now be enjoyed by our children and their children.

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By Marti Talbott, author of: A Shattered City - Earthquake in Seattle www.carsonbooks.com

 

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