When I last left off with Laura’s tale, she was having a more extended visit with her Townsend relatives and her husband, J.W., was off to Iowa to find a place for them. Once her husband had found land that he wanted to settle on, he returned to Illinois and he and Laura set out on their trip further West.
As she described it: J.W. and a former neighbor from Columbus, Ohio, had traveled widely in Iowa looking for the ideal spot and had ended up “with the next best thing”, locating places to homestead “on land where the soil was good, timber plentiful and a beautiful, clear stream of water meandered its way thru the entire breadth of the purchase.” This was very new country, sparsely settled by families scattered across the prairie, and the county seat had not yet been placed. The nearest town of any size was Cedar Falls, about 40 miles from their new homestead in Franklin County. The railroad was only extended as far as Dubuque, Iowa, which was about one hundred-twenty-five miles east of their land.
So Laura and J.W. rode the train to Dubuque and then began what Laura called “our real pioneering”. From Dubuque they took a stage coach pulled by two teams and very crowded, over the very primitive roads that existed at that time. Laura described it as “so closely packed that a desire of anyone to move trunk or limb must be followed by a movement of each passenger in the same direction.” It was a bright November day.
The first night was spent in Waterloo Iowa, a little town in its infancy without a hotel for travelers. Thus the coach passengers were shown to a small room filled with baggage, and left for the night. As Laura described it, after making a brief meal from food brought with them (“for such emergencies”), J.W. surveyed the possibilities and decided on a pile of baggage softer than the rest and lifted Laura up, taking a position on a box at her feet for the night.
The next day their trip was lengthened by running into what Laura called a “slough in the road”, which by its description was a large swampy area that the horses couldn’t pull the coach through with all the passengers and baggage. The group was able, finally, by using fence rails as levers and the horses pulling, to get the coach onto dry road again. They finally made their nightfall into Cedar Falls late but happy to arrive. Cedar Falls was described as larger and having more amenities in terms of accommodations and food than the night before.
Cedar Falls was the end of the stage coach line and from there the passengers parted ways to make their way onward individually. J.W. and Laura had forty more miles to travel to reach their new environs and traveled on alone. They spent their time talking about plans for their new home. They concluded, because of the lateness of the season, that they would start with a temporary two-room log house.
That night and the next were spent in a “pioneer’s cabin” turned hotel for land-seekers. They were about 3 miles from their new land. The cabin was described in some detail by Laura, as a two room structure with kitchen/dining in one room and sleeping/sitting in the other. J.W. and Laura made themselves a “room” by stringing her double shawl up surrounding the bed built into the corner of the room that was to be theirs for these nights.
In four short paragraphs Laura described the building of their own 2-room cabin that late fall with logs cut on their own property. A snow storm in early December slowed the outdoor progress and required a quick decision about how to roof the building for the winter. Poles and earth were a reasonable solution for the winter, since they had reason to think that it wouldn’t rain again until April or so. So, on December 15th Laura reported moving themselves into their abode, unpacking boxes and setting up beds, etc. For the winter they huddled by the stove when the weather was bitterest and when it moderated a little J.W. was able to make the walnut shingles for a more permanent roof. Come April the new roof was accomplished, despite starting out with a rain storm that soaked parts of the house and their belongings as they had moved belongings around to take the poles-and-earth root down and install a real shingled roof.