Having made it through their first winter in Iowa, J.W. and Laura were ready to take up the spring work of clearing some land for a garden and then more land to be planted in grain in the fall. They proceeded with this work through 1856. In her memoir, Laura wrote of their nearest neighbors, a family named Beed from England lead to the area by two sons, George and John. Although Laura said that land could be taken as homesteads, I have not yet found any record of the Beeds doing that or buying land, although I have found records of J.W. Booth buying land. In addition, the Booths were enumerted on the 1856 Iowa state census, however I haven’t found any of the Beeds there. Nevertheless, they were reported on as neighbors.
The summer of 1856 Laura’s mother (Marinda Blackman Denman)and a sister (Marinda) who had been in poor health came to visit the young couple from Ohio. Laura’s mother stayed about 6 weeks and then returned home, leaving Marinda to spend the winter with Laura and J.W., with the hope that the change in climate would improve her health.
The family prepared their house for the coming winter, filling any crack or crevice well and making arrangements for their stock (a horse, cow and pigs) to be protected and fed. J.W. had planned to make a trip to Ft. Dodge to the land office there and early in December, one morning left with the horse and buggy to make that trip. The night he left it began to snow and soon “a veritable blizzard was upon us.” By the next morning there was 10-12 inches of snow on the ground and the storm continued. Laura and Marinda had to deal with getting from the house to the stable in order to provide food for the animals. Although both women were in ill-health, Marinda thought it was safer for her to do the task and proceeded to dress herself in trousers and coat of J.W.’s and went off in the direction of the stable. She successfully got there and back, having managed to feed the stock.
On the third day of J.W.’s absence, their neighbor the elder Mr. Beed came to help with caring for the stock. Finally on the 6th day, J.W. made it back home. He had floundered through snow drifts, often having to shovel a path for the horse, and dealing with intense cold. In other places his way was completely clear, having “been swept by the fury of the blasts.” Northern Iowa and the prairie suffered the worst winter yet known that year.
Although J.W. had made it to Ft. Dodge and presumably conducted his business at the land office, I do not find a record of his owning land in Iowa until 1859. The First of Nov 1859 is the date on a patent found on the Bureau of Land Management website, however that apparently is the date of signature in Washington DC, so possibly is the finalizing of his purchase made in December 1856 (although it seems a long time).
As it was very cold that winter, and little could be done in terms of farm work, the Booths decided to build another room on the house. When the weather was moderate enough to handle the tools and the lumber the work proceeded, slowly. The evenings were spent in reading or enjoying visits from their “young English neighbor across the creek.” This was George Beed. He was a welcome guest both by the Booths and by Laura’s sister Marinda.
Laura and Marinda were called home to Ohio in May 1857, having a sick sister who wanted to see them before she died. This sister would have been Ann Denman Parker, who Laura had nursed in the past. While the sisters were in Ohio it appears that George Beed discussed his desire to marry Marinda with J.W. (both being left in Iowa on the farms), and he then wrote to Marinda. The details of both the courtship and the marriage are not spelled out in Laura’s memoir. However, we know that they married and Laura’s sister returned to Iowa “as Mrs. G. Beed.” I have found the registers on familysearch.org and know that they were married 18 Aug. 1857 at Florence in Erie County, Ohio – I assume at Marinda’s parental home.
September 1857 the Booths first son, William Tell Booth, called “Willie”, was born. By counting backwards I conclude that Laura was pregnant for her travels to and from Ohio that year. While I am sure she was well taken care of in Ohio, the travel must have been more difficult for her. Willie enlivened the household during the long cold winter into 1858, which the Booth family was somewhat more prepared for than the winter before.
Early in the spring they had a visit from J.W.’s parents and a sister with her husband. There was a severe lack of rain all that spring and into the summer, but then a major storm flooded their creek forcing them to the top of the house. A lake was created surrounding the house, by all the extra water that had no place to go, and the family built a small boat. They enjoyed taking turns circling the house on the water for the short time that the lake existed.
A good crop that year (1858) and then a milder winter following, left the Booth family doing well. In January of 1859 their first daughter, Nettie (Emma Annette), was born. As Laura described: “the advent on New Year’s morning of a plump little black-haired daughter” “With welcome hearts and open arms we received her as a treasure sent from Heaven.” That spring and summer were occupied for Laura primarily by indoor household tasks including taking care of the children, while J.W. worked on the gardening, sowing grain, planting and cultivating.
When the time came to harvest the grain, laborers were hired (I assume) and a good crop of wheat was left shocked (standing in bunches) to dry some for a few days. Unfortunately, J.W. developed a fever and took to his bed. The rains started and lasted for a week, with the wheat unprotected in the field and J.W. unable to do anything. Laura struggled to care for him and the children and try to look after the stock. She finally decided “to call upon my neighbors to come and put the wheat in stack. When called upon they responded heartily and came, some from five or six miles away.” Although she does not describe how she called on the neighbors, I imagine her riding over to the Beeds and any other close places and making her request. Did she have a buggy and take the children with her? Did she leave them in J.W.’s care even though he was bedridden?
The good news is that the neighbors came and the wheat was stacked and hay gotten in. The bad news was that J. W. had a relapse of chills and fever and couldn’t protect the stacks “from prairie fires which were of frequent occurrence during the fall months.” And so, a fire came and found their stacks of hay and wheat and “reduced them to ashes.” Laura did not report on how the stacks might have been protected but obviously it would have involved heavy work that required a healthy man. The loss was a calamity for the Booths. There was not enough time to put up more hay for the stock for the winter, and the result was that they had to sell off at great sacrifice. This loss, combined with his ill-health, “caused my husband to brood over his troubles and look for a way out.” J.W. had not been raised as a farmer and this was farming under great difficulties.
The upshot was that during “the winter of fifty-nine came reports from the Rocky Mountain country of gold mines of fabulous richness…Little wonder then that my husband, having spent five years in California in the early days, should be seized with this new gold fever and a desire to investigate for himself.”