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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?”