“Memories of EarlyDays”
Melinda Ann Warren Weaver,
Darlington Wis., December 21, 1875
Transcribed and Edited by Michael R.Reilly
Last Revised 03/03/2005
Life of an Early Settler
It took along time though for us to get the comforts and conveniences for ourselves andfamilies that we had been used to having, and were anxious to have and werestriving hard to obtain, but we all knew how every other family was situated,and our circumstances were so nearly alike that we knew how to feel for eachother. Every one that came and had a little money, even a hundred or two, oreven a thousand dollars, if they had much of a family to provide for, and livedas economically as they could, were obliged to use all of their money to livebefore their land came into market, and it came into market before they couldraise enough to live on and save any money to pay for their land, and the onlyway that we could so when the land was brought in the market, (which was aboutthree years after we settled on it), was for each settler to make his appearance at the land office at a stated time and swear itout of market, as they were allowed the privilege of doing by making oath thatthey were improving and doing all they could on the land for the purposeof making comfortable homes for their families, and not for speculation. Then it was reserved for the time, and neither speculatorsor any one else could buy it. But when it should be again brought into marketthey would be liable to lose their improvements, and no one could afford that. Iwas indeed all that any of us could do to live and get along by practicing themost rigid economy and working hard until we could raise something on the land.We raised no crops at all the first year, not any of us in our neighborhood,except a little garden sauce on small patches of ground that was dug with aspade, and that was not much – I just now call to mind that four of our menjoined hands and prepared a piece of ground, when it was too late in the seasonfor anything else to grow and mature, and sowed some turnip seed, and they grew,so that we had about a dozen bushels each, for four families, and not having anypotatoes for the winter we expected that we should get tired of them, but we didnot; they kept good, and the last were as good as the first.
We had not much of a variety of living that winter of 1837 orthe next summer of 1838, but we had sufficient to keep us from starving orhunger of such as it was. We managed to have plenty of bread although flour wasstill very dear, and meat, buying in Milwaukee and using some game, such asrabbits and squirrels, prairie hens, ducks, and venison occasionally. Sometimesour men would, or some of them, would go out and kill a deer and divide it withtheir neighbors, and sometimes we would buy some of the Indians, or swap, asthey would say, a bread or flour, and so we would sometimes change with them,and get along with them the best we could, but we had to take extra pains toclean the meat by soaking it in salt water and scraping it with a knife, andsometimes had to pare off some of it before we thought that we could relish it;but after all we would make it palatable in one way or another, and sometimes itwould happen that we would be very glad to the Indians bring along some meatalthough we had so much trouble with it in getting it fit for use.
As for fruit, it was but little that we used in those days,except wild plums and crap apples and to make them palatable and fit for use. Ittook much sugar, and a little more than we were really ready to buy in thosedays that recalled hard times. We bought dried fruit when it was within ourreach – that is, when our small means would allow us to buy it, besides the morenecessary articles of food. We had to study and learn economy, and we found itas economical to buy dried fruit, and sugar sweeten it, as to use wild fruitthat could get plenty of in the season without buying.
Our men had been hoping to be able to raise some corn, oats,buckwheat and potatoes, but alas their hopes and expectations failed, and by thetime that they were ready to commence breaking the ground their oxen were nearlyall of them taken sick and were not able to work, until it
was too late to plow and sow and expect a crop of anything from either sowing orplowing. Then it was that it began to look as if we must see hard times, for weshould have everything to buy for another year. How, or in what way we should beable to buy what we should need, we did not know, for our money was nearly gone,but thanks to our all wise Creator and benefactor, in whose kind care andkeeping we committed ourselves, and in whom we placed our confidence, and werenever forsaken, but were always provided, for our neighbors were very kind as ageneral thing and willing to accommodate and necessary to borrow at times, andif we had not been kind and neighborly to each other we should have faced harderthan we did. We have had a barrel of flour brought in sometimes, and have lentit all out in one day, except what we used for baking. We never suffered onaccount of it, for if it did not all come back before we needed it, we couldborrow of some one else. Sometimes when one had a barrel brought in, we have hadto pay out the half of it, where we had borrowed, and just the same with otherthings.
While the oxen were unable to work that spring, (1837), myhusband dug some ground with a spade to make a small garden, and hearing that aschooner loaded with potatoes had come to Milwaukee, he walked in, brought themhome on his back, eighteen miles. He went in one day and came home the next, andwas about tired out. He said it seemed as if he had come to Wisconsin to be apack horse, or to take the place of one. It would seem to some people in thesetimes, as if they could scarcely believe that potatoes were sold at five dollarsa bushel in Wisconsin. But it was so at that time, and the merchants could anddid extort just such exorbitant prices for everything that came into their handsthat they knew the settlers most needed. But no one would buy more than onebushel of potatoes at five dollars a bushel and some would buy only a peck atthat time. Those who did buy a few would calculate to save what they could raisefrom the few that they planted for seed the next year, if they should succeed inraising any.
It was with the potatoes the same as withthe grains of all kinds. By the time that farmers could raise grain and have anyto sell, it would fetch scarcely enough to pay them for their time that theyspent to get it ready for sale and taking it to market. In many cases it did notcome anywhere near paying them, but they were obliged to put up with it, with thebest grace that they could, for the merchants had their own way, paid their ownprice for produce, and that was very low, governed by nothing but their owngreedy dispositions and self will. If this seems to be a hard expression, it is nevertheless true. It is an old saying, and avery true one, that the truth should not be spoken at all times, but there aretimes when we feel that it is necessary to speak the truth loudly and boldly,although it may be much more strange than fiction.
Well, I have wandered far away from the story of the halfbushel of potatoes that my husband, John Weaver, or Uncle John, as he has beenfamiliarly called by almost all acquainted with him, as well as by his relativesand connections, which are numerous. The potatoes were planted, except a meal ortwo, which we could not forgo the pleasure of eating, having been without anyvegetables for nearly three months, and they were quite a luxury at the time,dearly bought, and far fetched. I suppose that some people who read this simplenarrative will laugh at the potato story, and some others that might with thetruth be told, but not if they had been just there and then, and situated as wefear settlers were.
That was a backwardspring, and the potato seed (as well as a few other seeds that we planted andsowed) laid in the ground a long time. When they showed themselves above groundthey were kindly cared for, thinking so saved them all for seed for the nextyear if they should mature. But my husband was taken sick and not able to workfor several days, and had no appetite for anything that I could prepare for him.One day he said he wished the potatoes were forward enough to dig. He believedthat he could relish them. I told him that I wished they were, and said no morebut stole out slyly into the garden, and with the help of a knife, I opened ahill and found two potatoes about the size of a small butternut and severalsmaller ones, that were about the size of a hazel nut, and some the size of apea. I took the two largest and mending the hill as
well as I could, and then served two or three more hills in the same way; thenwent and watered the hills well that I had robbed. The next thing was to cleanand cook these small potatoes for a sick man, and when cooked he ate them withrelish as I have never seen him enjoy before or since. When he had eaten them hesaid he believed they were just what he needed, for he felt better already. Thenext day he wanted more and I robbed other hills in the same way until I hadgone over the small patch of small potatoes which did not take long, when it wasvisited every day, and by that time he was able to go to work again and had agood appetite.
He said the potatoes hadcured him and that he was partly paid for lugging them so far on is back andshoulders. I was afraid that I had spoiled the potatoes or injured them so thatthey would not grow any more, but concluded that they had done a good deal ofservice already, and perhaps when it was most needed. But our potatoes did notfall as did nearly all of our expectations. That summer there was rain enough tokeep the ground moist, and they grew finely. We could not tell how many therewere of them, how much they would measure or weigh, but they were very fine,good sized, as many in the hills as we should have expected. If we had only dugthem once, we thought that they were too good to keep after all, and when theywere better fit for use as we thought we used them occasionally, until they weregone and did not save them for seed as we intended, but risked the chance ofgetting seed before we should
need it. After a while our turnips were ready, and toward spring, before theywere gone, we had a chance to buy potatoes enough for seed and plenty for use,as long as they would keep good and we had a fine crop from seed.
We got through the winter of 1837 and ’38 better than weexpected, considering the disappointment and failure not being able to raiseanything of any account except our poor little garden that year, and that was alittle indeed. But one managed to get bread and meat, and a few groceries.Toward spring Mr. Elliott and my husband had a chance to take a job of cuttinglogs and splitting them into rails. They had to go about nine miles into thetimber toward Milwaukee, and take their provisions with them for a week, or fromMonday morning till Saturday night. They would come home Saturday night and goback on Monday again with their week’s provisions, week after week, until theyhad finished their job. We cooked their provisions at home, except their tea andcoffee, which they had with two young men that lived in a cabin and
cooked for themselves, and who very kindly gave them such accommodations as theyhad.
They cut and split the rails for fifty cents a hundred, andhad to take their pay at a provision store in Milwaukee, and had to go or sendby someone else to get it. Sometimes they would send by neighbors, who had to gofor themselves and brought some provisions according as they earned it, and musthave it. But there were five weeks in succession during the time they were attheir job, that the road was so bad that teams could scarcely get through toMilwaukee. When they did they could not bring much of a load. Our two men had toquit their work every
Friday afternoon, soon enough to walk into Milwaukee. They could stay over nightand start as early as they could get away in the morning, with as much flour andmeat (with a few other necessary things) as they could carry, and back theirload all the way home, eighteen miles to our place and a mile farther to Mr.Elliott’s.
It would be night and they would be tired out, and while theywere resting on Sunday, we had to cook their week’s rations for them to takeback with them when they went back to their work on Monday, and at the end ofthe week the same process had to be repeated – that long
wearisome walk with their back loads of provisions to keep us from starving athome and themselves in condition to work and earn more. What was worse and verymortifying to their feelings, one of those five times that they had to backtheir loads home, they went on Friday as usual, and when they got there, therewere no provisions for them. The man they worked for was gone from home, andthere was nothing in store for them, but they were told by the clerk, that theywere expecting a vessel to come in that day but had not got in yet. It wasloaded with provisions and they thought that it would be in that night, or earlyin the morning, so that they could have something to take home with them. Butmorning came, and there was no vessel in sight, and they walked as long as theythought it would do to walk, and have to get home that night, as it wasSaturday, and they expected that they should be nearly, if not quite out of therequisite for cooking at home, and they supposed that our neighbors were nearlyif not quite as needful as we were. For that reason they did not like to go homewithout anything and risk the chance of borrowing for fear of distressing theneighbors knowing that they would lend as long as they had enough of anything todivide. They knew not what to do. They had not money to go to any other store,and they could not get an order, as the head man was not at home. The clerk didnot like to take the responsibility upon himself of giving an order.
While they were talking and considering as to what theyshould do, a friend came to them, and to him they told of their dilemma; and headvised them to go to the store of Messrs Brown & Miller, where there wasplenty of provisions in store for any one that needed it and had no
money to buy. But they thought that looked to much like begging, but hepersuaded them and said that it was no disgrace to, and they would never bethought the less for it. His advice was that they should dispense with allfeelings of pride or that source, and he thought they might think it a privilegeto have such a place to go when it was impossible to get what was their due andthe friend went with them, stated their case to those gentlemen, and they toldthem to come forward and have what they wanted of such as they had in store, andas much as they could
carry, and they would be welcome to it. They expressed their thankfulness, buttold them that they did not come to beg, and would pay for what they got as soonas they could. They said, “we will not take pay if you do bring it; ourinstructions are to give to those who need, and not to see. When you are able,and see an opportunity to assist others, do so; that is all the pay that willever be required of you. Now, would you like to have some garden seeds,”they said, and they gave them of all kinds they had in their store. They camehome in the evening very tired and ready for their supper, which I had ready andwaiting for them. They were more cheerful than might have been expected, afterall that had happened to them since they left home.
On Monday morning, as tired as they were, they told me oftheir trial and disappointment, and the kindness they had received, in what waythey had been supplied with necessaries of life, and all the particulars. Andfurthermore, that they did not expect to find any bread in either of
their houses, until we could bake something from the flour that they brought.Then I had to tell them how and in what way I had been supplied. Three of ourneighbors had joined teams, and had been to town, with only one wagon, andbrought some flour and meat and a few groceries
and by that means I had been supplied, for they returned things that we hadlent. Then our men said they would never feel discouraged again unless somethingworse should happen, for there had always been some way provided for us, andthat they would place their trust and confidence in the Almighty and SupremeBeing, the author and giver of every good and
perfect gift, and try to feel truly thankful for every blessing received, andhumbly hoped that they should never have reasons to feel themselves in suchstraights again. I am happy to say that they never had occasion to fear again,that they might go home and find nothing to satisfy their cravings of nature.Although they had not ever found their houses quite empty and destitute of food,they feared at that time that they should when they could not get what was theirdue.
I suppose I might as well tell how Messrs Brown & Millercame by the stores they gave out. They were provided by a contribution of moneyfrom those who were called the head men of Milwaukee at the time; influentialmen. Those who had contributed hundreds of dollars at the time of elections andtown meetings, to buy wine and other strong drink, to give away on those days,and afterwards, if it was not all used or thrown away on those days, was to bethus used. I should say just here, and now, as I said then, that it had beenbetter thrown away on that day, as
some of it was, when men (so called) would allow themselves to draw a hand sled,or a little had wagon around the streets, with a hogshead of wine on it, and onehead taken out and a large dipper to dip it out and drink from, which causedrioting, drunkenness, quarreling, fighting,
exposure and sickness, by some of them laying out and taking cold when they wereintoxicated, and could not get home before they fell, when no one happened tosee them and lead them home – a sorrowful sight for parents or children. Therewere some of the higher grade gentlemen, as
they were called, those who thought a good deal of themselves, and were wellthought of and highly respected by some that let themselves down as low as thelowest, on those occasions of drinking and carousing at election times, whichwas not considered a very good example for them to set, for them that theycalled the lower class, and who were looking to them for example.
As I did not intend to give a lecture justhere and now, I will say that a better thought took possession of the minds ofthe monied men, and they contributed as usual, but for a different purpose, andit was generally conceded a better one – that of supplying the needy with food -for which we had reasons to be thankful, as well as some others. We feltthankful for others as well as for ourselves.
And when our men had finished their job rail splitting theystayed at home for a while, and my husband went to do some fencing, and tryagain to get some seed into the ground, and if possible raise something to helpfeed the family the next winter, and not to have quite everything to buy. He, aswell as some other neighbors, broke some ground the fall before. After theiroxen had recovered from their sickness, although some of them had died, so thatthey were not so well off for teams as they expected to be, and no one in theneighborhood had a team of horses, or even one horse; neither would horses haveof much use to them, if they had, certainly not to work the land.
There was so much sickness and so manydeaths among the cattle in the spring and summer of 1837, that neighborswere but poorly supplied with teams to do their work. There were a number of menwho owned a yoke of oxen each, but with some one yoke was owned by two men.Three yoke of ox were owned by two men and it always took four yoke to break theground on prairie land or oak openings, so they had to join hands and teams, andhelp each other the best they could, on what ground they had broken in thespring. Our men planted corn, potatoes and beans, and sowed oats and buckwheat,but no wheat that season, because they could not break ground enough and fit itfor sowing spring wheat. But we had quite good gardens and everything that wehad on the ground came forward and was much better than we expected. When fallcame and our crops had matured, when my husband had made his garden and sowedand planted what ground he could get prepared, he and Mr. Elliott went toPrairieville, as the small settlement on the prairie eight miles from us wasthen called. The year before there were three houses there, and a few moresettlers had come since. They were about to build a mill there that summer, and our men went to work digging the mill race, burning lime,doing mason
work, and such other work as they could do.
And in the meantime, Mrs. Elliott [nee Lucy Transit] and her two little boysthat were with her at home, the one eleven [George, Jr.] and the other nine years old [name unknown], went towork with some iron implements that were made for the purpose with handles ofwood, and broke and dug the ground by hand, on which they raised the potatoesfor their use that year, and a fine little piece of corn to help to bread the family and not to have to buy so much as they had done. They had no team, andMr. Elliott went from home to work, when he could get anything to do and wasable to work. But he was not a very healthy man. Mrs. Elliott was healthier thanhe was. She had seven in her family to do for, when her husband was away, and nodaughter at home old enough to help her. Their oldest daughter [Mary or Harriet; George’s daughter, Caroline with first wife Charlotte Weaver would have been about 17 yrs old in 1837. According to family records, Caroline died August 10, 1837 in the town of Lisbon] was with me to take care of the garden and to do such other workas she was able to do. Mrs. Elliott did her work for her family housework,sewing, etc. and with the help of those two little boys, broke by hand the firstthree acres of ground that they had broken in the Town of Lisbon,county of Waukesha, and state of Wisconsin. A part of it was done in the springof 1838, and the remainder was done the next spring. It was hard work for themother, very hard, but not so hard for the boys. They did not mind it; but forfear that it might be too hard for them, she would, after doing her morningwork, with the little assistance that they could give her; go out with them, andmeasure off a portion of ground, and tell them that was their forenoon work, andwhen they had finished that they could rest a while, and then go to play for awhile if they felt disposed to do so. If she saw that they were working toohard, she would have them stop and rest before they finished the work she hadlaid out for them. At the same time she would measure a portion for herself,larger than theirs, and when she had finished she had to go in and get dinnerfor the family and herself. She would be so tired that she would have to laydown and rest a spell before she could get it, but the boys always had a playspell. After their rest, and they enjoyed it heartily, she was satisfied thatthey were not being hurt by work, then after dinner the same, and so day afterday, except Sundays, until they got through with the season.
It is with feelings of love and respect that I make suchparticular mention of this family. We had been acquainted with them for severalyears in the state of New York, always on terms of intimacy and good willtowards each other. My husband and his relatives had been acquainted with themin England and always respected them and knew they were honest, industrious andGod-fearing people. They always seemed to wish and try to do by others asthey would like to be done by. Now they had followed us toWisconsin, where it was new and wild, sharing the same fate with us, facing thehard times, working hard to make comfortable homes for ourselves and families,and breaking the ice – as we used to say, preparing the way for other people whoshould come afterward and always ready with their kindness and advice to us.