A Pioneer Story: Pioneer Days. Part 9, the Rest of the Story

At this point in her memoir Laura seems to have been ready to be done with the writing project, and much of the rest of her story was condensed (relative to the amount of detail in earlier pages).  She dealt with her year and a half stay in Ohio, and with the Civil War in parts of a few brief paragraphs (her younger brothers’ participation as well as J.W.’s) and then the assassination of Lincoln all in less than two pages.  [While she dealt with the Civil War so briefly, there are several interesting tales that she alluded to.  I suspect I will come back to this period of time once or twice and write more fully of these times and the Denman and Booth families.]  She wrote about one page on the family’s return trip to Golden from Ohio, which was faster and somewhat easier than the first trip West behind the oxen.  She brushed by the next 4 years in Golden spent gardening (one daughter – unnamed but it was Laura Dell – was born) and wrote of J.W.’s committing  them to an enterprise in southern Colorado, taking care of a herd of cows for absentee owners at Turkey Creek ranch.  Of that ten years Laura wrote: “I will draw a veil over the ten years of existence at the Turkey Creek ranch as nothing of importance occurred except the advent of another daughter, Carrie May, whose coming was truly a blessing to us in our lonely retreat.”  It sounded as if Laura was not happy about pulling up stakes and moving away from the amenities of Golden.

Following that relatively unsuccessful venture, the Booth family moved to Pueblo for a time and then to a ranch outside Pueblo where “my husband engaged in gardening for a few years.”  Meanwhile the children were growing up, being educated, and marrying.   The gardening lasted until the infirmities of age brought J.W. to the point of not being able to carry on the business and they turned it over to a son-in-law, M.H. Claypool, and moved into town.  Laura writes that “we spent two years of happiness in freedom from care and anxiety, when alas! my dear husband received the summons to go hence and departed this life on the tenth of May, 1904, leaving me to pursue life’s journey alone.  Together we had traveled forty-nine years and seven months.”

For the next 8-9 years Laura stayed in Pueblo, having grown children in the area.  She had increasingly bad health, however, particularly in the winter.  So when daughter Nettie Myers told her of their plans to go to California for the winter of 1912-1913, Laura decided to join them.  They spent that first California winter in Pasadena, and the climate did allow much better health for Laura.  She and the Myers liked it so well that they decided to make it a permanent move and Laura went back to Colorado to settle up her business there and then returned.  Over the next couple of years they tried several locations for winter and summer, finally settling in Claremont.  They liked the advantages of a college town (Pomona College where granddaughter Elsie graduated in  June 1919) and Laura and her now-widowed daughter Nellie planned to stay.

And so Laura ended her tales, “having been led by an unseen hand thru these varying, shifting scenes of life, and having reached the age of ninety-one years, I await the call of the Master to enter into that rest prepared for those who love and serve Him here.”  One of the two typescript copies of this memoir is signed by Laura and dated September 6, 1919.  She died in February 1920.


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A Pioneer Story: Pioneer Days. Part 8, Laura Returns to Ohio

By J. S. Fillmore (Library of Congress – Maps Division) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By the time Laura and her children set out to return to Ohio for an extended stay there were three children (Willie, Nettie, and Henry).  Henry, the youngest, had been born in Golden and was 19 months old when they set out.  There was no railroad closer than the Missouri River so the little family group had to find a private conveyance to take them that far.  A lawyer from Denver who was traveling across the plains had room to take them, and so it was arranged.  Baby Henry had been taken ill shortly before their start but it was thought he would soon recover and the trip commenced as planned in mid-February 1864.  Their previous experiences with the winters in that part of the country led them to think that leaving in this winter month should not be a problem in terms of weather.

The travel must have been very uncomfortable for Laura (if not all the passengers) since she ended up in the middle of the wagon on a box with no support for her back and holding her sick child.  The discomfort was increased as they traveled onward by the prevalence of fleas in all the stopping places, that especially seemed to like feasting on the children.  The map at the top shows the Golden City area in the far left red circle, and the approximate location of their destination, Mount Pleasant, on the far right in a red circle.  It is not clear from Laura’s description how long this part of the trip took, but they finally reached the railway in Iowa after a number of days of traveling in the wagon.  She also did not report where they took the train from (possibly at Plattsmouth or maybe further south).  Taking the train, they headed to Mount Pleasant to spend a week with J.W.’s sister before going on to Ohio.

As was Laura’s writing habit, she did not give the name of J.W.’s sister, however I have done some researching and figured out who it was.  I am intrigued that Laura often gave names to traveling companions or neighbors, but rarely or never named relatives beyond what the relation was.  When I look back at the story of the flood at the farm in Iowa and the boat that was built, I realize that Laura did give some details in writing that story.  She named J.W.’s mother as Abigail – by saying that the boat was named after her – and the maker of the boat as Mr. L.P. Mills.  She also said the visitors included J.W.’s parents – later mother and stepfather – a sister and husband who must have been L.P. Mills, and that there were nine in the house.  This makes me think there might have been a child and a second sister also in the visiting party.

At any rate, I am fairly certain that the sister to be visited on this trip was Mary Booth Mills, married to Lewis P. Mills and living in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.  Having arrived there, Laura reported only a day or two later, her child (Henry) “was taken very ill with pneumonia and for three weary weeks he suffered, the terrible disease baffling the skill of the best physician in town, and finally release came and he passed away.  Then with aching hearts we laid him to rest in the beautiful cemetery at Mt. Pleasant knowing that now we must pursue our journey without him.  The thot of his father’s grief when the sad news should reach him in his loneliness was an added sorrow, knowing how much he loved the dear child.  And now with empty arms and sorrowful heart we continued our journey to the old Ohio home.”

I don’t remember when I first found little Henry’s gravestone on findagrave.com, but I know I wondered about the location.  I did not remember then having read Laura’s description of his illness and death on the trip back to Ohio.  I linked to the page above because I do not have permission to use the picture of the headstone yet.  I have just requested permission to use it from the owner of the memorial and the picture.  When I look at the site where Henry’s stone is I can see that the Mills had also lost a young child just the year previous.

Laura and the two children finally reached the old family home in Ohio in April she wrote, just two months after leaving Golden.  The part of the trip by wagon had clearly been swifter than the original trip with ox-drawn wagons.  It had been seven years since Laura had parted with her parents and other relatives, so she must have been glad to see them all again.  Since she and the children spent a relatively long visit in Ohio, I will leave them there for now.

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A Pioneer Story: Pioneer Days. Part 7, Farming in Colorado

By J. S. Fillmore (Library of Congress – Maps Division) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The house J.W. was building in the mining community of Spanish Bar was ready for occupancy come the Spring of 1861 and the family moved in.  It was time to start mining, but since there were prospectors working sites next to those of J.W. he decided to wait a bit and see how they fared.  He was likely glad he had waited since it turned out that the mines on Spanish Bar were only going to be rewarding to large companies that could work to the depth needed to get to the gold.  As Laura put it: “men wandered off to other parts, – Georgetown or Central City, where mining had been carried on with success for a year or two.”

The Booth family stayed where they were for the summer and early fall, and then moved to Golden where they acquired a piece of land in the valley of Clear Creek, adjoining the town.  They built a house and made ready to garden in the spring.  (It seems as if it was a very good thing that J.W. could build houses – he built a number of them for the family!  He was also able to construct tables, a bookcase, a cupboard, etc. with the left-over lumber.  A neighbor was manufacturing chairs.)

So by the 17th of November they had moved in and were beginning to feel at home.  And then, as Laura described it, on the morning of the 17th “there came a rushing, mighty wind sweeping down the canyon and carrying everything movable before it, threatening the destruction of our home and even of our lives.”  Even though breakfast was in the works (bread in the oven and coffee steaming on the stove), Laura and the two children fled outside and were searching for a reasonable place to settle when J.W. rescued them by finding a place up canyon that would be sheltered enough.  By nightfall the wind had not ceased and they were taken in for the night by a neighbor who had a more protected location.  (I have looked for weather history to see if I could find any reports of this event, but found only one place online that mentioned it:  http://gardnerhistory.com/sesquicentennialstories/golden/timeline.htm)

Golden was a big gardening center, producing food for the mining centers such as Center City,  and the Booths set to farming the next spring.  For a year that went well.  The next summer, in July, suddenly they were besieged by grasshoppers, millions of grasshoppers in the sky.  They lit on J.W.’s carefully planted cabbages and other vegetables and decimated them.  The Booths were determined that the grasshoppers should not devour the fine field of tomatoes that were just in bloom.  Their solution involved “getting a long rope and placing one of our two children at either end, who by running back and forth, kept the hoppers hopping so they had not time to gratify their appetites by eating our tomato vines. Thus becoming disheartened by our treatment of them they soon took leave without ceremony, greatly to the delight of the gardeners in the vicinity.  The proceeds of the tomato patch rescued from the grasshoppers when marketed netted the snug little sum of $700.”

Two years of that sort of hardship and meager results led J.W. to think he would join a group going on West to check out mines lately discovered in Idaho, called the Bannock mines.  He and Laura consulted and it was decided that she and the children would go back to Ohio for a year or two to visit the family there.  Apparently there were so many people giving up and leaving the area that the Booths had to dispose of their household goods at a sacrifice since there was little market for such goods.  J.W. was to stay in Golden for some time after the family left, wrapping up some business affairs before starting out for the mines in Idaho.

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A Pioneer Story: Pioneer Days, Part 6, Into the Colorado Mountains

By J. S. Fillmore (Library of Congress – Maps Division) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The tent city outside Denver was a diverse little city including  a minister and his family, gamblers, musicians, a saloon, and dens of “gambling and revelry of all sorts”.  Only a few days there were enough for the Booth family and they continued to search for habitation elsewhere.  They soon found a house “just outside of town that could be had by finishing up some work, such as laying a floor, hanging doors, etc.”  J.W. was willing to agree and so they moved to this country place which was more peaceful and quiet.

In July they were approached by a party of Indians who camped in their yard.  Laura, who had a fear of being scalped, was not happy but J.W. took the position that they were peaceful and only needed a good place to camp and rest for a few days.  This they did and then left on their trek to the mountains.  As Laura reported: “I could never quite rid myself of the idea that Indians were not the most desirable people to have around.”

J.W., meantime, was seeking information about the mining being done from everyone he could talk with.  As it happened, they were visited by a stranger looking for a drink of water, who had just come from the mountains.  His two sons were mining on Clear Creek and he was going to return to them in a few days.  While he was conducting his business in Denver the Booths discussed going to the mountains to spend the winter.  Although there were numerous horrible things or hardships which might occur, J.W. wanted to try if Laura was willing.  Plans were therefore made with their new friend, Mr. Roberts, to accompany him.  The Booths sent for their teams from the ranch where they had been staying since the trip West, and the wagons loaded.  On a cool October morning they started out.

Three or four days of travel brought them within a day’s drive of their destination as the roads became increasingly precipitous and Laura found them “too frightful to think of riding over…we often take occasion to stop the wagon and alight preferring to walk over such roads.”  The last day with 6 miles still to travel, Laura and the children, who had been persuaded to ride the rest of the way, panicked at a “rickety looking bridge over a deep canon” that had no side supports and she insisted on stopping the wagon and getting out to walk across.  As it turned out, the driver of their wagon failed to make a turn in the road and the wagon went over a 6 foot embankment and landed upside down.  J.W. hadn’t been aware that his family had gotten out to walk and feared the loss of his wife and children, crushed beneath the wagon.  He was mightily relieved to discover that they were safe.

They left the wagon to retrieve another day and went on to Mr. Roberts’ cabin where they would share his hospitality until they could build a place of their own.  The area was called the Spanish Bar, a small mining community which boasted a log house hotel and half a dozen miner’s cabins.  The miner’s cabin was about 12 by 14 feet, with a “huge black log used as a foundation for the structure” which was stepped over to enter.  There were two bunks along one side of the room, a few wooden stools, a rough table, and an improvised cupboard made of boxes for the cooking utensils.  They brought in clean pine boughs  for mattresses on the bunks and their bedding from the wagon and were comfortable for the night.

After a day’s rest, the other wagon was retrieved and they set about adding to the cabin’s comforts.  They had filled the box of the wagon  bed with all manner of household goods and found material for covering the cabin walls, a mirror, some bric-a-brac, a few pictures.  Laura sewed a floor covering of gunny sacks that was fastened over the dirt floor with wooden pins.  There was even a cook stove (which had survived the overturned wagon) and was set in one corner giving them a kitchen.  Their neighbor across the way called it luxurious and “too cozy for anything”.  It was quite a transformation of the cabin.

During the ensuing winter they accumulated certificates on claims to be developed in the spring, and J.W. proceeded “to erect a home for us in a beautiful spot on the sunny slope of the mountain.”  Their belated mail and news caught up with them finally, and the big news was the election of Abraham Lincoln as president.

“Lincoln! Lincoln!  Who is he? Must be a dark horse.  He was not the regular nominee of the Republican party.  Later the news is confirmed.  There can be no mistake now and Abraham Lincoln, the Rail Splitter of Illinois is to be our next president.  Next come mutterings of discontent.  Our united country shows signs of disruption.  The South is dissatisfied and who can tell what the outcome will be?  We await developments and in the meantime proceed with our building operations in this mountain county, far away from the scenes of the political struggle.”

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A Pioneer Story: Pioneer Days, Part 5: Across the Plains of Nebraska to Denver

By J. S. Fillmore (Library of Congress – Maps Division) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Before leaving Plattsmouth, the little caravan experienced  a terrific storm of wind and hail and rain.  The wind felt as if it might overturn the wagons and the hail pelted them as they gripped the flapping ends of the wagon covers.  The next morning they finished preparations for the start of their long journey across the plains.  “And so, with visions of a bleak, sandy desert wherein grew no tree or blade of grass, we started forth…So on we go, following the Platte River, along whose banks we find, greatly to our surprise, abundant grass for the stock, and this was the desert of which we had read so much!”

After a week or ten days of monotonous travel the small group was joined by a party of 6 young Germans from Minnesota whose carts were quite different from the wagons of the Booth party and which Laura described.  She also noted being passed by groups with swifter teams going in the same direction, and then by other groups heading back the way they had come (some without even setting foot in the mining regions of the mountains).

Signs of Indians began to be sighted, the remains of campfires and pieces of broken equipment left behind.  These were discovered to be Potawatomies, a quiet and peaceful tribe, who were very interested in the group’s belongings and the Booth baby (Nettie).  Laura noted that they rather enjoyed the novelty of meeting the Indians as a way to break up the monotony of travel, except for one problem.  One of the Booth teams of oxen was young and very aware of the approach of any Indians (Laura thought because of their sense of smell but it isn’t clear why she thought this).  This young team took more and more dislike to the Indians and “persisted in plunging and tearing around at such a rate as to make it anything but pleasant to ride behind them.”  Blindfolding the animals was not found to help and the group had to pass right by “not stopping to parlay with these interesting specimens of humanity.”

Next, Laura remembered in the midst of this lonely terrain where they only had themselves and occasionally a small group of Indians, one day they saw a rider coming from afar.  This lone rider was galloping as fast as his horse could go.  The flap, flap of his saddle bags proclaims this the Pony Express” but to be sure one of the group cried out the question.  And “as he rushes by without halting a moment the answer comes back, ‘Pony Express—six days and a half from San Francisco.’”  The slow Booth caravan was said to be still four weeks from the halfway point to San Francisco when they encountered this rider.  The Pony Express had recently been established to carry mail, messages, and newspapers from the West Coast to the East (early 1860).  Soon afterward Laura notes they came to the location of Ft. Kearney, an old trading post and landmark on the road they were following (marked on the map above).

As the group moved on from this point they again had a stream of travelers passing them, in both directions.  By this time, they were about a week away from Julesburg, another landmark on the road.  They hoped to reach it by the Fourth of July.  Another brief diversion from the monotonous travel was described as the group of young men from Minnesota began to engage in a family quarrel.  They got to the point that each wanted to dissolve the partnership they traveled in and go their own ways.  This was not feasible however based on the number of carts and teams they had: there was no way of dividing the animals and if one group bought the other out there would be a party then stranded hundreds of miles from their destination.  Finally some of the older men in the caravan were called on to arbitrate and the final solution was to go on as they had until they reached the end of the trip.

The group reached Juleburg the evening before the Fourth of July.  It was decided to celebrate the Fourth with a gun salute, having no fireworks with them and no place to acquire any.  They would then travel only a short way and rest the remainder of the day.  Taking a day of rest was apparently a topic of discussion among the travelers, some of whom wanted to always press on but the majority of the group appreciated a day to read and write and meditate (certainly Laura must have wanted such a chance).

On the sixth of July the group again took to the road and continued toward Pike’s Peak and Denver.  A few days of travel brought them close enough to finally begin to see the mountains they were traveling toward, and to bring them within a few days of their goal.  The Booths began to talk of Denver and speculate about its appearance and to wonder about finding houses.  When they reached Denver they were surprised to see how scanty the vegetation was.  “And now the thot occurs, ‘What will become of the stock?  Where will they find sustenance?  They cannot live in a country like this.”  The landscape around Denver was dry and barren, reportedly due to a drought.  A ranch not far away was found which would take the animals.  With no housing immediately found, the Booths left Denver for the outskirts and a little “city of tents” where they found a place for their own tents.  And here we will leave them for now.

Denver in 1859
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

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