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
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
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