A Pioneer Story: Pioneer Days, Part 3, Life in Iowa

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.”

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One World War I Veteran

Abe Scheier in WWI uniform

Abe Scheier in WWI uniform

This is Abe Max Scheier, MD.  He was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Medical Reserve corps in Chicago on July 26, 1918 by the War Department.

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November Genealogy To Do

Well, although I got my “new family” chart finalized (and printed beautifully), I haven’t made a decision about a way to share all the information with the couple.  In the past, I have made a sharable CD from RootsMagic but it turns out that sometimes that isn’t very viewable by the younger folks.  I’m not sure what the issue is but I hate to present something to someone that frustrates them!  So I’m considering a website, maybe through RootsMagic, or maybe with a domain name all their own.  Or maybe, in the end, I’ll just make another sharable CD and hope they can access it.

Related to this, I would like to make a small (modest) new family tree for the baby who was just born, with pictures attached to parents and grandparents.  This would be an extension of the tree I made for her parents when they got married a couple of years ago.  I’m envisioning something that could be hung on a wall in the baby’s room and looked at and talked about as she grows.   Maybe possible for her first Christmas?

My goals for November are relatively modest since the holidays are coming, and I’m hosting a family Thanksgiving this year.  First, I will continue to (go back to working on) organizing my digital files, naming them consistently in the way I have decided works best for me.  This is one of the tasks I do by 25 minute chunks of time, since that is a reasonable time limit for my frustration level.  Of course, I sometimes cannot resist going off on the tangent of looking to see if there is an update to my file, a digital image that wasn’t available before.  I must admit that many of the files I am just now organizing are a number of years old (and not-yet connected to an individual or event in my database), so it makes some sense to me to see if there is more than an index available for example.  And often enough, there is.  Familysearch.org, for example, continues to digitize birth marriage and death registers which provide more information than the index does.  On the other hand, this takes extra time and draws me down various rabbit holes.

The other tasks I need to remember to do are the computer clean-up ones:  backing up my blog posts and my genealogy databases, and scanning my harddrive for files that could be deleted and cleaning up the registry file.  I have forgotten a couple of months over the summer and need to get back in the habit of doing these tasks on a monthly basis.

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A Pioneer Story: Pioneer Days, Part 2, Starting in Iowa

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.

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October Genealogy To-Do List

1.  I will make a sharable family tree for my nephew and his wife, to finish the new family tree project.  I finally (!!) got the chart I wanted made – a bowtie chart with the couple at the middle and their parents, grandparents, etc. moving out from them on the right and the left.  This was possible using RootsMagic, my database, but not simple.  I still think someone, somewhere, should make a chart like this possible without the manipulations I had to go through in RootsMagic.

2.  I will separate and connect each file or piece of information that I found on our Washington DC trip to the person or people in my datebase that it is connected to and make sure it is filed in the correct computer folder.  This is complicated by the fact that I have digital images of scans, digital images taken with my cell phone (which are in Dropbox), and paper items copied at the DAR Library.  I need to consolidate all these and name the files before I can add them to my database or move to the appropriate computer folder.

I did a reasonable job of preparing ahead for this trip, and had two checklists that I took with me to keep me on track (one for NARA and one for the DAR Library).  I mostly focused on military pensions at NARA, and both used the fold3 database available there and requested paper files of things not-yet-scanned.  For three of the paper files I utilized the Innovation Hub option – you have the file delivered to that area and scan it yourself.  This was fun, although tiring, work and I like feeling like I contributed several digitized files to the genealogy cause.  The Innovation Hub is a crowdsourcing effort to get files never microfilmed digitized so that researchers can use the images and the increasingly fragile paper can be safeguarded.

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