Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Memoir of Mary Ann Wade Arkell: Part 1

This photo shows
Mary Ann Wade Arkell
and baby Gertrude Hollingsworth
            Last week I wrote an article describing pioneer women’s thoughts about the movement westward.  In my research, I discovered a memoir written by Gertrude Hollingsworth about her paternal grandmother, Mary Ann Wade Arkell.  Mary Ann Wade married John Arkell in 1865 and they came to America from England in 1871.  Gertrude writes with an honesty that is frank and, at times, humorous.  This is part one of three about the Arkells.  We’ll begin with their settlement to Kansas.
            “I Remember Grandma” by Gertrude Hollingsworth:
Coming to America was Grandpa’s idea.  He had been over to New York State in about 1860 and stayed a few years with some cousins who had settled there.  (I do not find the exact date recorded)  He returned to England, it was said, because in America he had learned that a married man could do much better on a homestead than a single man.  (And taking up a homestead is what he had planned to do)….
            Grandpa and Grandma had few possessions when they came to America.  Grandpa John had a large chest which contained most of his belongings.  It was like a cedar chest but was made of some golden material possibly oak or pine.  Grandma also had a chest or box made of pine which contained her things that she brought from England….She gave this chest to me, and for years I kept my things in it.  (By then she had Grandpa John’s chest for her own use) I have had this chest all these years and only now have given it to a granddaughter who treasures antiques.
            They, Grandpa, Grandma, and their three little children, came, of course, by boat to America, then by train as far as the railroad was built.  I think that was as far as Missouri.  From there they came by ox team to Junction City, Kansas.  At Wakefield, near Junction City, Grandpa picked out a homestead and built a dugout on it.  To file on this homestead he then had to go to Concordia, Kansas.  As he had no other way to go, he walked, and overnight he stayed with a family in Cloud County.  There they told him that he could take up 160 acres of land there in place of the 80 acres in Cloud County and sent someone for his family in Junction City.  On the Cloud County homestead Grandpa built a frame house (Today we might call it a shack or cabin).  It was one room with a loft above and a cellar below.  Grandma didn’t like it.  Mostly this was what she said, because she had no place to put things up.  (Certainly it was better than the dugout, and though I don’t remember her telling of her own home in England, keeping the house in this shack obviously was different than keeping house in the Duke’s home)  She tells how happy she was when finally she got a “safe” to put her dishes in.  (We’d call it a dish cupboard)  We may note that even cardboard boxes so common today hadn’t yet come into existence.
            Various things happened in that one room house.  Children were born there, and twice lightning struck it.  Grandma often told us of the time she was in the cellar skimming milk when lightning hit the stove pipe which went up through the roof.  Lightning came down the pipe through the cook stove and right on down into the cellar hitting her on the head and knocking her down.  The lightning, strangely, made a hole in every section of stove pip as it came down.  Grandma after that was always deathly afraid of lightning.  (Who wouldn’t be?  I thought.)
            My father was born the “Grasshopper Year”, when grasshoppers came by the millions and ate everything.  “Even,” Grandma told us, “The green window shades.”  (Shades on windows--?  “Why shades?”, we asked.  When they were so far from neighbors and so short of space and money to ship things.  But Grandma answered, “Oh! You must have shades!  In the old country of you didn’t have your shades pulled down as soon as the lamps were lit, the police would come and tell you.”)
            The first year on their homestead Grandpa was able to raise little.  He only succeeded in raising a little rye which he took to a mill and had ground into flour.  That, and an occasional prairie chicken that Grandpa might shoot was the only food they had to eat that year.  Grandma said she cried because she couldn’t make good bread of the coarse rye flour, and how happy she was when finally she could buy refined white flour and make nice light bread.  That year she lost one baby and she told us that her feet had swelled so badly that when she ironed, she had to take her shoes off.
            Those were bad times indeed but the next things we heard of them they had bought the Say place on Grand View Hill and had moved back to Junction City.  Too, in 1879 Grandma and Tom, then five years old, had gone back to England for a visit.

            Where do they get the money to do these things?”

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Pioneering: A Woman's Perspective

            The first time I came to Kansas was in 2006.  My husband, three children, and one cat traveled almost 900 miles across parts of the U.S. in a minivan.  I was also in my third trimester of pregnancy, but because the baby was number 4 I was less anxious about traveling and knew there were hospitals along our route.  Our household goods traveled independently from us in a moving truck.  Every nook and cranny of our house was packed into that truck with items ranging from necessities such as pots and pans, to a collection of school artwork and a scattering of window coverings for each house we’d lived in. 
Pioneers emigrating to Kansas in the 1800s painted a very different picture of cross-country travel.
            A trickle of pioneers began settling in Kansas in 1830, but it wasn’t until 1854, when Kansas became an organized territory of the United States, that emigrants began relocating in larger numbers.  Passed a year after Kansas entered the Union as a free state, the Homestead Act of 1862 inspired thousands of Americans to move to the area from the east.  The largest groups of emigrants were people of European ancestry, in particular Swedish and German-speaking people, who came to claim their free or inexpensive land. 
            Many young families had the confidence to relocate, and they had their own motivations for doing so. Some saw it as an adventure to discover new lands.  The promise of independence and a new start enthused families, especially husbands, wives, uncles, brothers, and cousins to make the journey.  Diary entries collected in Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey by Lillian Schlissel indicate that mothers were concerned with relational values, disease and family matters, and wanted to preserve their families by staying together. 
In 1844, a young 13-year-old named Martha Ann Morrison wrote her observations that “The men had a great deal of anxiety and all the care of their families, but still the mothers had the families directly in their hands and were with them all the time, especially during sickness.  Some of the women I saw on the road went through a great deal of suffering and trial.  I remember distinctly one girl in particular about my own age that died and was buried on the road.  Her mother had a great deal of trouble and suffering.  It strikes me as I think of it now that Mothers on the road had to undergo more trial and suffering than anybody else.”  The grandmother of General George S. Patton, Margaret Hereford Wilson, described her feelings during her journey, saying, “Dr. Wilson has determined to go…I am going with him, as there is no alternative…Oh, my dear mother…I thought that I felt bad when I wrote you…from Independence, but it was nothing like this.”  Many women found it their Christian duty to be strong and traveled West in order to stay together as a family and support their husbands’ efforts to better their family’s future.
            Pioneer families carefully considered what would be taken in their wagons for their trip due to necessity and the space available.  Wagons first had to be built and were typically a flat bed and 10 feet wide and carried about 2,500 pounds.  Wagons like the iconic Conestoga wagon were covered with canvas cloth treated with oil to make it water resistant for protection from harsh weather conditions.  Families filled the wagon with food and dry goods, clothing, kitchen tools, animals, furniture, and rifles and ammunition.   Nancy Wilson described her wagon train as having 25 wagons “nearly all of them ox teams of five yoke…our wagons were big and strong, and had good, stout bows, covered in thick, white drilling so there was a nice room in each wagon, as everything was clean and fresh and new.”  Another woman, Helen Marnie Stewart, describes the mass number of emigrants heading on their journey saying, “All around us on each side of the river were sheep, cattle, horses, wagons, men, women and children – more cattle and sheep than I ever saw before in my life; drove after drove, thousands, yes, thousands…It is astonishing to see what a multitude is moving on.”          
            One of the early settlers in Geary County was Herman Oesterrich.  He traveled from Wisconsin to Kansas Territory and claimed land on Lyons Creek in 1856.  He returned home in 1859 and married Albertina Frederika Timm with the intention of moving back to Lyons Creek. A  1995 Junction City Union article describes the Oesterriches’ trip as a family affair, saying, “Albertina and Herman started back to the Lyons Creek claim and along with the newlyweds came her parents and their seven children, Charles Brehmer and his wife, and two bachelors, Ed Bruntrock and a Mr. Merman.” The article goes on to say “12 children were born to Albertina and Herman…People outside the family would come to Albertina for ‘mothering advice.’”  
            Childbirth on the trail was rarely spoken or written about in diaries until a baby was born.  Daughters give written accounts of being surprised by the arrival of babies.  Families would stop for half a day or a full day to allow the mother to recover and then continue their journey.  Mrs. Francis Sawyer describes childbirth on the trail perfectly when she wrote in her diary “I saw a lady where we nooned today who had a fine son three days old…The lady was…in good spirits.  I have heard of several children being born on the plains though it is not a pleasant place for the little fellows to see the light of day.”  While there were many births, there were also many deaths.  Life as an emigrant saw many diseases and dangers: cholera, smallpox, typhoid, measles, dysentery, snakebites, malaria, scurvy, scarlet fever, accidents, Indian attacks, and more.  Some diarists recorded the number of graves they passed each day, humans and animals, as there was great loss on the way.
            Mrs. Amelia Stewart Knight emigrated from Iowa to Oregon with seven children and one on the way.  Her diary tells of the reality of her travels, but she does not complain.  Her last journal entry and conclusion to her travels ended with these simple comments, “A few days later my eighth child was born.  After this we picked up and ferried across the Columbia River, utilizing skiff, canoes and flatboat to get across, taking three days to complete.  Here my husband traded two yoke of oxen for a half section of land with one-half acre planted to potatoes and a small log cabin and lean-to with no windows.  This is the journey’s end.”