“Memories of EarlyDays”
Melinda Ann Warren Weaver,
Darlington Wis., December 21, 1875
Transcribed and Edited by Michael R.Reilly
Last Revised 03/03/2005
We recollect being invited to go and spendthe day with an old gentleman and lady, in the year 1837. We went, my husband and myself, and we walked. Itwas two miles from home, and my husband carried a child about four months old, while I had enough to do to carry myself. We arrived at the oldpeoples’ log shanty in due time, and we had a very pleasant and interesting
visit with them, and with their son and his wife. When it drew near dinner time the old lady said to her son, “come, ‘Lias, go to the other room, willyou, and fetch in the large table, for the one we use every day is not large enough when we have company.” We were somewhat curious to know where thisother room could be, as there appeared to be only one room to the shanty. By
observation we noticed that the other room lay all out of doors, and the table was a home-made one, constructed for the purpose of joining to anotherin case of necessity. After dinner the old lady called on Lias again to take the table away into the spare room, so that she could get around better todo her work. We had a good deal of sport over the home-made table and the
spare room out of door.
Well, although we walked two miles to spend the day withthose old people and their children, and their house had so very little room in it, yet wehad a pleasant social, and very interesting visit. And although the fare was homely and served in plain style, it was wholesome and in good order, and anair of neatness pervaded the whole of the small establishment. In after
years, when we met, we always had to talk over this first visit in the wilds of Wisconsin. We walked home that evening, and next morning found that thewolves had followed us nearly home, as we could see by their tracks in the snow. That was often the case when people were out in the evening; but theydid not always come near enough to be seen or heard.
In the fall of 1837 our oldest boy, then four years old, and “Wisconsin”,a little girl about nine years old, were out a few rods from our house, whichstood on a bank or rise of ground a few rods above the lower end of a marsh which was about one-half mile long. The children had been playing just belowthe bank for a short time, when all of a sudden they came running up to the
house screaming with fright. I left my work and went out as fast as I could to see what had frightened them, when they both began telling me at once.”Oh!” said they, there is a large beast down there, and it came andstared at us with great big eyes.” “But where is it?” I said, “andwhere did you see it?” “Oh!” said they with one accord, “I don’t knowwhere it is now, but it was right down there by the bushes when it came at us,” at the same timepointing towards a small cluster of willows that stood near the edge of the marsh. Everything seemed quiet in that direction. I could see nothing, but Isuspected that it was a wolf that had frightened them. I told them not to be afraid they should not be hurt. I then asked them if it was not a deer.”Oh, I don’t know, ” said they, “for I never saw a deer; but it was crossand ugly looking.” “Well”, said I, “I cannot see anything, andperhaps, after all, it is only a large calf that I saw feeding out there a while ago. “Oh,no,” said the little girl, rather indignantly, “it was not a calf nor anything like it, and I would not be at all afraid of a calf. “I’ll tellyou,” said she, “aunty, the creature breathed real hard, or else itgrowled, and it had long hairs all around its mouth and nose like a cat. [Editor’snote: “Wisconsin” may have been Melinda’s brother-in-law’s, DavidBonham, daughter. Melinda says in the above paragraph she was about nine years old, doesthis mean that Bonham arrived much earlier in Wisconsin than previously suspectedor is it a nickname? Bonham didn’t arrive in the U.S. until 1830, but may havemarried Rebecca Weaver later that year. But it’s doubtful that they would havehad a daughter that quickly and named her “Wisconsin” before they hadeven arrived in the territory.]
Then I asked her how near it was to her when she saw it.”Why, ” said she, “I heard a strange noise, and turning quick, there it was, with its noseclose to my shoulder, and staring with great big eyes at me. Then we both screamed and run for the house, and it seemed as if we never would getthere, and I thought every step we took that ugly thing would catch one of us.” I concluded it must be a wolf, and while we yet stood there close bythe house, ready to dodge in and fasten the door on short notice, the children with fear and myself on the watch to see, if I could, the animalthat had frightened them so, when suddenly the marsh grass began to wave, and out walked Mr. Wolf a few rods from where they first saw him. He walkedvery orderly, and seemingly consequential, gazing at us as he went. Where the wolf came out of the tall marsh grass, into plain sight, it was a fewrods further off from the house than where it went in, according to the children’s account of the place of where they saw it, and so close upon them
still it was but a few rods, and we could see him plainly enough. Had there been a goodmarksman there with a loaded rifle, he could have shot the old fellow, for he was sufficiently near. He certainly seemed to be a very oldsettler, and looked very bold and saucy at us, as he walked slowly and orderly, partly up the bank a short distance from the marsh, and then laid
down and looked at us. He was a much larger specimen of the wolf tribe than I had ever seen or heard descriptions of.
I had heard the largest kind that had been seen anywherearound there, described as the big grey wolf, all over grey, but this one was dark greyand white spotted with large spots. Oh how I did wish that there was a loaded gun in the house, although I felt very nervous and frightened, underthe circumstances as I was alone with the children. My indignation had become thoroughly aroused to think his wolfship had ventured so near, andhad threatened those innocent children almost right before my eyes, that I though I had the courage to shoot at him, though I should not expect tokill, or even to hit him, but thinking that perhaps it might frighten him so that he would not be likely to come so near again. After laying and lookingvery saucily at us for some time, he got up and walked slowly away, but he would take a few steps at a time and then look back over his shoulders at usas if to see if we were following him, or if he would likely to get the meal that he had come so near getting, if he should come back and try again. It
seemed as if I could read his thoughts by his actions, and the children as they stood by me watching the animal, as he sauntered, apparently, soreluctantly away, kept asking me every few minutes if I thought the ugly thing would come back after them, and all the time kept watching me, as ifto see if I was afraid that he would come back. To quiet their fears I told them that God would take care of them and send the wolf so far away that hewould not return. We all seemed as if riveted to the spot, and could not leave our watch until he had gone about half a mile, and was fairly out ofour sight, and not even then could I go into the house and get to work, but felt myself completely overpowered, and ready to faint, with the thoughts ofwhat had happened. But I soon rallied, and looking around my little ones, and their cousin [“Wisconsin”], I found my heart overflowing withfeelings of gratitude and thankfulness to the wise Creator, that everything concerning the affair had been so nicely ordered, and overruled, thatneither one or both had fallen a prey to the ferocious beast.
When my husband came home in the evening, the children had totell the pitiful tale, and how near that cross and ugly beast, (as they called it),came to them, and showed his teeth and looked very sharp at them with his saucy eyes. They then told him that the animal had wanted to eat them, forthey heard him snap his teeth. He listened to them and heard their version of the affair, but it seemed as if he could not at first give it credence.But when I told him what I myself had seen and knew of the affair, and that I thought the children had told their story correctly, he then thought thatthey must get his gun home, which was lent at the time, and load it, and have it ready to shoot the next one that should venture so near. I was readyto second that motion, and told him that I should try it myself, if I was at home, and in order, and he should be absent. The gun was brought home, andkept in order, and in readiness, to at least frighten the next wolf that
should come near the house in broad daylight. But no such unwelcome visitor made his appearance again in broad daylight for a space of two months.
On a very cold, wintry day, when my husband with all the restof the men of the neighborhood were off on the road toward Milwaukee, preparing tolog-way the swamps, and bridge the streams, so that it should be better going on the road when the winter should break up, or should there comea very wet time, for at such times the road would be almost, and sometimes quite impassable in some places, so they took the opportunitywhen they could best spare the time, to commence preparation for improving the road, and making it better and safer to travel on.
For a time it was dangerous to drive to Milwaukee, because ofthe many deep mud holes, and bad places that could not be avoided. So they wouldbreakfast early, and be ready to start off to their daily task, as soon, and generally a little before it was daylight, with a cold lunch in
their pocket for they would return, tired, cold and hungry, and ready for a warm supper. This we always calculated to have ready for them.And, although our meals were necessarily plain and not much of a variety, the journey of several miles out and back each day for a while,except Sunday, and the keen cold air and the hard work, all combined, gave aged appetite, and our meals were as thankfully received, and aswell and heartily enjoyed, as if we had the largest variety imaginable.
I was about to mention the circumstances of another wolf thatmade his appearance near the house in daytime. It was one of those days when I was alone with the children, and had been very busy sewing all day, andintent on finishing the garment that I had on hand, when all of [a]
sudden, I discovered that the sun was getting low, and it was time that I should begin to prepare the evening meal. I therefore laid by mysewing, replenished my fire, and took my water pail to haste to go about twenty-five rods from the door, I saw a wolf coming up the path only afew rods from me, as if coming to meet me. The wolf, at the same time saw me and we both halted suddenly and stared each other in the face forsome minutes, unwilling, seemingly, to turn from each other, and retrace our steps. But presently I bethought myself, that I had a pail and a tin
dipper in my hand. Then with the tin dipper I beat vehemently against the pailand then he turned and started off a few steps, then he slacked his pace and looked back at me again, and as I had no other means offrightening him, I kept on beating the pail with the dipper. After a little while he left the path and went off in another direction, and itwas not until he was fairly out of sight that I ventured to go for water. Unfortunately, there was no loaded gun in the house at the time,but the next morning my husband brought his gun home again, because I requested him to.
I thought the wolves were getting saucy, and if the gun waskept in readiness, and the wolves persist in coming so near the house in broad daylight, and if he was home, he might shoot them, and if I was at homealone, I would shoot at them and frighten them if no more. But he thought that I would not have the courage if they should come nearenough for me to reach them with the muzzle of the gun. But he put up a mark about eight rods from the house, and wanted me to take the gun andsee if I could take sight and aim so as to hit the mark, which was a piece of board about nine inches square, with a white spot in thecenter. I declined doing it in his presence, telling him that if I was alone and had no one to depend upon for assistance in case of another
trial of that kind, that I thought my courage would be sufficient. But he laughed at me and said he could see what my courage was when put tothe test. I could not bear to be jeered about it, and took the gun from him, and standing in the door of our little cabin, drew it up at armslength, aimed at the white spot, discharged the gun and five buckshot stuck the board, two of them hit the white spot and won went the board.
Well, instead of getting jeered any more, I was praised alittle, for my husband said to me after he had picked up the board which had been setup as a mark, “well don, I don’t know but you could kill a wolf ten rods off and happened to broadside toward him. At any rate,” he said, “Iwill endeavor to keep the shooting iron in readiness, so that if you ever have another opportunity of the kind, there shall be no reason why Mr.Wolf should not fall and never annoy you any more.”
But just such an opportunity never came again, so that myskill at wolf-shooting was not put to the test after all. But there was scarcelya night we could not hear the wild concert of their howling as it rang on the night air through the woods and opening – sometimes a long
distance off, and sometimes very near. Very often we would be awakened suddenly from a sound sleep with their weird yelling, scratching andtearing up the ground close to the house. We were not afraid that they would break through our log cabin, but their howls were nearly
deafening. Such were the only serenades we had for years, and when they came so near and it was moonlight, we could draw back the curtain fromthe window carefully and look out. Presently, when they had serenaded us to their satisfaction, they would walk off, leaving us to ruminate andenjoy the silence as best we could. Sometimes there would be three, and again four or five of them, and on one occasion we counted seven, thatfiled along one after another by moonlight. Had it been daylight there might have been a chance to stop some of them, but as it was there wasno chance.
A little later, after we had begun to keep and were trying toraise domestic animals, such as sheep and swine, we were very much annoyed by these wild and ferocious beast of the forest. It was impossible to raiseany young or to keep the full-grown ones, only as they were kept shut up
at night and the very best of care taken of them in the daytime. With all our care and vigilance many of our young animals were devoured bywolves. But after a while when a good many had been killed and the rest driven back, as was supposed, we and our neighbors ceased shutting up
our animals so close at night. Almost all of us had a fine, though small flock of sheep, which we were proud of. One night when we were notexpecting such an event, there came a pack of wolves and visited nearly every flock, killing or mangling the greater part of them. Some were
eaten, some partly eaten, some terribly mangled but not dead, and some were killed that were not much torn. But it was a sorry spectacle thatmorning light revealed to the owners of the little flocks they had taken so much pain with. It was rather discouraging after paying a very big
price for the sheep which were driven many miles from another state, and on their arrival were so poor and weak as to be scarcely able to walk.With good care and plenty of good food, however, most of them rallied, and gained strength and flesh and became hearty. But a few of them weretoo feeble to endure the winter and died before spring opened.
Stock-raisers of the present-day would not look at such as wehad to commence with at that early day, but we had to buy as such as we could find at the time, or none at all. As disheartening as it was to looseall but two out of twelve, while others lost as many, it was of no use to give up in despair. We took good care of what we had left and inprocess of time succeeded in retrieving our loss.
We felt sorry for the loss of our sheep, but that was nothingin comparison with our feelings when our children were so frightened, and to all appearances, were very near being devoured by the ferocious wolf.The fright, consternation and grief that we experienced at that time has
never been forgotten.
At times, and not unfrequently, we look back through theintervening years, and seem to live time over again, in which we had to endure severe trials, hardships and loss, sickness and sorrow; times when wemourned with those who mourned, and when others took part with us and shared our griefs and troubles. But we can also look back upon seasonsof pleasure and happiness, as truly and as really genuine as possible for mortals to enjoy in this sphere of existence. What if we did have togo to our humble and unpretentious place of worship, or to visit our friends in garb of plain print, with not more than seven or eight yardsin a lady’s dress, with no trimmings or ornaments to make a display. The real and true lady was not known =in those days by her expensive dressor lavish display of jewelry, but her gentle deportment, kind and feeling heart towards others when in trouble and need, always honorableand charitable in the full sense of the term. These were qualities that were pure genus in a lady’s crown in those times. Likewise the true manwas known by the same traits of character. Whether he appeared in his working dress or was dressed in broadcloth, he was looked upon as thegentleman just the same if his behavior and disposition was such as would become a real gentleman. So we have seen that this dress was notindicative of the gentleman or the real lady.
What, then, if we did wear plain garments and heavy shoes,which were more suitable than fine shoes and fine and elaborately trimmed dressescould have been. The country being new and the goods rough, nothing short of the most substantial goods for wearing apparel was of anyaccount. We often had to walk, if we went out from home, the only alternative was a wagon in summer and sled in winter, the same beingdrawn by horned horses, and if we had not an experienced driver we were liable to be run away with, particularly if our own oxen were young andlively. What contrast in the styles and process of riding in those days compared with that of the present time. Shall we call our old style ofriding pleasure riding? Well, it was nothing more or less. Although we might load into a timber box, over heavy and clumsy runners, while our
seat was coarse hay or straw, and our extra wrappings were blankets or quilts, instead of beautiful robes and pleasure sleighs of the presenttime. But our new country style was passably good and enjoyable. We did not put on airs and make great pretensions to something that we couldnot do. That would have been absurd, for we all knew and understood each other’s circumstances and ability, and could not, if we would, outdoeach other. If we could not treat our friends just as we would wish, we could at least give them a cheerful and warm-hearted reception, and makethem welcome to whatever we had to set before them. It was indeed a
pleasure to meet with friends and neighbors and converse with them concerning our affairs and circumstances, tell each other our plans,prospects and our anticipation for the future. We never felt more happy than when we could do acts of kindness for each other, for it was then
that we felt that we had the greatest reason to be grateful for such kindness, and for the interest taken in our welfare. If we did endurehardships, trials and privations (which we certainly did), we were always looking forward and expecting a better time. And we very muchdoubt if we, or any of our neighbors that shared with us the trials and hardships of our new country life, ever enjoyed more real happiness andpleasure, everything considered, even in what we have called better times, than we did in those very early days.