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.
Hillsdale Jan 16th /59
Yours of the 10th 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.
H. J. Ranney
Lewis writes to Henry for the first time since his illness. He has recovered, and can almost walk normally, but he is a changed man. Lewis says he is “Able to do a good fair days works. But not the nerve I carried in former years.” He has reduced his farm to forty acres, which he can manage comfortably, and his wife does a lot of the work with him “from choice.”
Lewis reports on the health and doings of the brothers. Lucius is now clearly the most driven farmer of the family, and younger brother Anson is working with him rather than out on his own for wages. Harrison and Lyman are in Arkansas, and Lemuel is out of touch. Henry has apparently retired from business and become a gentleman farmer, and Lewis pokes a little fun at him, asking whether he has done any heavy work himself or does he just watch others do it.
Their mother Achsah has decided to spend her winter in Phelps and Ashfield, Lewis reports. Henry’s wife Marie is ill, so Achsah will be able to help look after the children. Lewis says he encouraged her to go, and that Lucius agrees it is a good idea, but would never say, “for fear she would think they wanted to get rid of her.”
The season was dry and the harvest light, Lewis says. But he planted five acres of Peppermint, and he has seen in the papers that the oil is selling for $4.25 per pound. Lewis asks Henry for a price because he would prefer to deal with family, but he makes sure Henry knows he is aware of the oil’s value in New York.
Hillsdale Sept 11th 1853
It having been a long time since writing you, I have concluded to lay everything else aside and write you. Yet I had rather work a day than write a letter. I am unused to letter writing opt late (of which you are probably aware of) and it seems quite a job. I read a letter a week or two ago of yours at Lucius’s, stating that Marie’s health was very poor. I think I am prepared to sympathize with you in your afflictions, yet we had no children to look after or care for. But we cannot expect our days all sunshine.
Our relations’ healths are all quite good at present here. Lucius is a driving away as usual at farming. Anson is with him. Harrison and Lyman are yet in Arkansas, expect doing well. Lemuel we know but little about. Lyman wrote that he received a letter from him in July. He did not mention how he was doing or when he was coming back. But advised his Friends not to take the overland route to California.
My health is quite good this summer. Leg become about straight so as not to be observed in my common walk. Therefore you will calculate that I have not got the Blues as had when I wrote you last. My health in the main is quite good. Able to do good fair days works. But not the nerve I carried in former years. I do not work very hard nor do not intend to. I now have only 40 acres of land, 28 improved, which I can work myself with a boy in the summer season very comfortably. My wife is quite a rugged woman and very ambitious and helps me a great deal from choice.
Mother I believe has concluded to spend the coming winter at Phelps and Ashfield. I have mentioned it to her several times the past summer that there was nothing to hinder her from visiting her friends East again. But her head is full of cares and so much to do & Lucius has a very kind woman and would like to have her go if she could enjoy herself better. But Lucius would not recommend her to go for fear she would think they wanted to get rid of her. But Frank has invited her and you in your last wanted her, therefore she has concluded to go, probably in October.
We have had a very dry season. Wheat and corn came in fair. But most other crops were light. Wheat is worth 8/6 per. But I had only 85 bushes. Sowed only five acres last year. What is Pept Oil worth? I planted five acres last spring. It has been too dry for it, shall probably get about 30 or 35 lbs. I see it quoted at about four twenty-five in N.Y. Papers.
How does farming go? Have you split any rails yet or made stone wall? Or do you as an old saying is, keep tally while others do it? Ralph I suppose is company for you if nothing more. It hardly seems possible that he is a boy eight or nine years old. We are not remarkably fond of very small children at our house. But one of that age we should think worth fussing with.
I must close as I am going to town and have not time to write any more. Please write soon. I am much obliged for papers I am receiving from you and intend favoring you with the expense sometime.
My respects to you and yours.
I can send Hillsdale papers to you occasionally if of any account. Densmore’s people we have not heard from in several months. Probably well or we should have heard.