Ranney Letter #38

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Harrison writes Henry in early 1859. This letter contains a lot of interesting little clues about life in 1859, and one really big one. Harrison mentions that their seventy-year old mother, Achsah, is busy churning seven pounds of butter a week from her cow. He describes the situation on his farm and his brothers’, and he gives Henry a little news and gossip about local people.

The big news, however, is that Lemuel and many others are talking about going west to join the new gold rush in Kansas. As odd as it sounds, ten years after the California Gold Rush, the Kansas Territory in 1859 was the hot new place to make your fortune. This is because the territory of Kansas was much larger than the state it became in 1861. The Kansas and Nebraska territories established in 1854 extended to the Continental Divide and included Pikes Peak and much of what is now Colorado and Wyoming.

Kansas in the 1850s is usually remembered as “Bleeding Kansas,” a battleground where the issue of whether to extend slavery into the new western states was fought in a savage war along the Missouri border. For the most part, we’ve forgotten that in 1859, both Kansas and Nebraska were part of
The West in a way they no longer are. I’ve written a little more about this here.

My Transcription:


Hillsdale Jan 16
th /59
Dear Brother

Yours of the 10
th came to hand last night. We are enjoying usual good health this winter. LGs and Ansons people are well, also Lucius family. Mother is making seven lbs Butter per week from her cow this winter. You saw this cow probably when you were here. We have not heard anything from R. Densmores folks for some time past. Are looking for them out here this winter. Lem is not doing anything this winter, but thinks or talks of going to Pikes Peak in the spring.

There is quite an excitement here about the gold in Kansas. There are more than two hundred persons in this county say they are going to Pikes Peak next season. I do not suppose there will be more than half that number go. I heard Lucius speaking about your sending Anson some fifty dollars last fall. I asked him some two months since if he had written you to let you know that the money was recd. He said not but would write you in a few days. That is the last I had heard or thought of it until I read your letter last night. He said the money came
so thats all right.

We have had quite an open winter thus far. No cold weather to speak of. Have had only about ten days of sleighing the fore part of Dec or last of Nov. We milk two cows & make butter to sell this winter & keep two fine hogs & one span of horses. We will probably milk 3 or 4 cows next summer. Our wheat looks well. We have on the ground eighteen acres, ten acres new ground & eight of corn ground, all of which we put in before the fourth of September last. Our new ground we broke up in June and cross plowed in August. So you can judge from that we expect a good crop of wheat if the season is favorable.

I intend to plant some ten or twelve acres of corn in the spring and sow four or five to millet. We raised eight acres of corn last summer and fatted six hogs. Ours were larger than your
Pig. But not so large according to the age. One of ours weighed 420 lbs, the others were not so heavy.

I paid Rowlson for the Standard for one year in advance to be sent to you. I think it was about one year ago now. He may perhaps keep on sending it after the year is up. I know there is not much in it but advertisements. Still I thought perhaps you might like to see what was a going on out here if it was not much, as we did not write you very often, and that you might see something in the paper that would interest you. Therefore if you would like to read it another year, just let me know and I will have it sent to you. All it will cost you will be the postage.

I recd a Greenfield newspaper from you last week. We have not heard from Harry Lawrence nor have we seen
any of the St. Jo people down here. Lem is not married, nor have Lucius folks any children. But Fox and his wife have had another fight! He has sold off everything but the House Hold Goods and wanted to give his wife one third of the farm. But she would not divide the property that way. Consequently he lets her and the Boys remain on the land while he goes to Kansas. He sold two horses, harness, wagon, two plows, one drag for two hundred twenty five dollars on two years time. Lucius bought his sheep. Fox says he goes dish time certain. But folks think they will make up again as usual.

The last we heard from Frank he was trying to get in Deputy Sheriff under Wm Hildreth. Have not heard from him direct since last fall. L.G. Saw Powell Lound at Coldwater in the fall. He said he would sell his place for thirty dollars per acre. And that other place was about five dollars per acre cheaper than when you were out there. About here it is Hurah for Mo or Kansas, don’t care much which.

It is dinner time and I must stop blowing. Helen joins in sending Love to all.

Yours Truly
H. J. Ranney