Friday, December 30, 2005

Pioneer Life

George Beck was born on 8 Sep 1838 in Hadstatt, Schleswig-Holstein (now part of Germany).
Father - Caspar Lauritz Beck (born in 1803, Hadersleben, Schleswig)
Mother - Adrianne M.W. Dressen( born in 1808 Kiel, Schleswig)
His wife was Margaret Jensen (born in Wittbeck, near Kiel, Schleswig)
George and Margaret Jensen moved from Schleswig to Iowa in the United States at the beginning of their marriage. (Some sources say they got married in 1862 in Davenport, Iowa, other sources say their oldest child, George, was born on the boat coming over.)
There were 13 in the family. Lawrence was second in age. William (the ancestor of the Barrett brothers, born on 6 May 1866 in Dixon Iowa) was third. Caroline, nicknamed "Lena" or "Carrie," fourth. The following story was written by Carolina in her old age.
Pioneer Life
In April of the year 1881, my father bought 160 acres of prairie land 90 miles northwest from where we lived in northwestern Iowa. The land had to be broken (meaning breaking up the heavy grass sod, so that crops could be planted): so Father sent my nineteen-year-old brother Lawrence, my sixteen-year-old brother Will and me, thirteen years old, out there to break as much land as we could in ten weeks.
We took two mules, four horses, all old and gentle, two wagons loaded with farm implements, flax seed, some flour, coffee, sugar, and some corn for the animals. Both wagons were loaded too heavily. There were no graded roads, and the ground in April was soft; so our troubles soon began. We had expected to reach Storm Lake, the first real town, a distance of 30 miles. the first day. At ten o'clock in the morning, we were stuck in the mud seven miles from home. Most of the goods had to be unloaded and carried to dry ground.
There was a farmhouse a half mile farther up the road. Father walked there and asked if he might store the seeder, drill, and flax seed there. The woman said, "Yes". This was done. With lighter loads and perhaps fewer mud boles, we got along fairly well for time; but at sundown when still had twelve miles to go, the roads became low and marshy. The animals were so tired that Father said that we just couldn’t make the town; so we tried to find a place to spend the night at different farmhouses. No one could make room for us; so there was nothing to do but struggle on in the dark toward the lights of Storm Lake, which we could see in the distance.
It was about ten o'clock when one of the wagons got stuck again. Pull as they would, the mules could not pull it out. Father decided that we would unhitch the mules and leave the wagon behind. Lawrence led the mules, and Father trudged through the mud. Will drove the team, and I sat on a board that extended out in back of the wagon with my feet hanging down, where they got an occasional mud bath. This made me feel bad as Mother had gotten me a nice new pair of high button shoes, and this was the first time I bad worn them. I knew that they had to last me a long time. Charlie and Doll, the two other horses, were too tired. to do much more pulling; so they were tied back of the wagon.
It was midnight when we reached Storm Lake; and all the small rooming houses were crowded; so we had to go to the best hotel. Think of it - hungry, cold, and covered head to foot with mud, we had at last found a place to sleep. I was so tired; but when I thought of Father and Lawrence, I knew my lot had been easy. J could brag to my friends when I saw them again; for I had a room of my own in a four-story hotel; and that the best hotel in town.
The next morning, Father hired men to go out and get the other wagon. The wagons were taken apart, and they and the horses and mules and all our belongings were loaded in a railroad car. It cost $30 to take us and all our things the last 60 miles of our journey. Lawrence stayed with the animals; but Father, Will and I went into the passenger train (another event to brag about). We left Storm Lake some time after dark, and got off the train at Marcus about three in the morning, with no place to stay for the rest of the night. It was cold in the depot, but we waited there until the freight train carrying our things came into our car was switched off on to a side track. Father, Will and I climbed into the car and found some bedding. I slept on top of the table, which wasn’t a very comfortable place to sleep; but I was too tired to care. The restaurant had a saloon in front; and I was scared. In the morning we found a restaurant, where we had fried eggs, bread, and coffee. All I could think of was "Ten nights in a Barroom." After having our good breakfast, we were ready to take up the last part of our trip, over twelve miles of roadless prairie.
The country was higher here, so the traveling was much better, in spite of the lack of roads. At two o’clock we came to a cattle ranch, where a Danish family lived, a mother with her four sons and her ten year old daughter whom in later years became my companion. We boarded with this family two days, giving Father and the boys time to get lumber and nails from the railroad town and build a shelter for us. This consisted of a living room with two nailed up bunks in it, furnished with a stove with the pipe through the roof, and an adjoining shelter for the animals. Now we were ready to take up our work.
Before Father left for home, he said, "If you have time and aren’t too tired, you can break some land for the saloon keeper, whose land joins ours on the north. The saloon keeper will pay $2.50 an acre for the work; but no matter whether you finished or not, come home by the first of July."
We didn’t write letters, nor did we get any; so the long days were dreary ones for me. But nights always came too soon, with lightning, thunder and heavy rain. The boys were tired and slept heavily; but I crept under the covers, feeling sure this would be the last of us; but next morning the sun would come up bright; and all was fresh and clean, and everything was all right. The rain made breaking the earth easier. The bob-o-links would be drumming and crowing and cackling until it seemed they were calling me out into their wildlife. So after my work was done, sometimes, I scattered corn along the furrows after the plow - I would join my wild friends. I would walk miles to the north, wondering if I would find anyone, white or Indian; but I never did. I did find prairie chickens' nests with eggs in them.
These I carried home for food. We could buy butter, milk and eggs from the ranchers; and every Saturday Lawrence went to the little town to have the plow shares sharpened; and he would bring back ham, beans, and whatever groceries we needed. I baked the bread, which sometimes wasn't fit to eat; so I fed it to the wild life. For fuel I used corn cobs, coal, and red roots, that I gathered after the plow.
By the first of June the boys had finished breaking the 100 acres they had planned to break for us; and by the end of the month they had broken 100 acres for the saloon keeper; so Lawrence went to him and told him what they had accomplished, and that that was all we could do, because we were expected at home. The saloon keeper said that he would come out in the morning and measure the work. Lawrence brought back a treat of cheese crackers, two cans of peaches and two pounds of gingersnaps for our trip home. (I don't care much for gingersnaps to this day.)

The next day our neighbor with his bartender came out to measure the land. Iowa bad become a Prohibition state. Carrie Nation, who I thought was wonderful, had been smashing up saloons with her hatchet; so I thought all saloon-keepers were outlaws. I was afraid of these two.
The boys had figured out just how much they had earned so that they would be able to tell bow much they should get. After measuring the land, the saloonkeeper came into the shack. He took from his pocket a bag of money and counted out $210. Though Lawrence did not expect to be paid right then, he had expected to get $225: but he took the gold and thanked him. I thought I should be nice, so I fried some eggs and made some coffee, and gave them some bread and cheese and some of our precious gingersnaps. (Where is the hatchet woman?)
After they drove away, Lawrence said they had stretched the tape and had beaten us out of $15. We were all quite upset about that; but soon forgot it when we counted the money. There were ten $20 Eagles, as they were called (gold); and the rest was in silver.
We didn't intend to start till the next morning, because we planned to make the 90 miles in two days, over better roads and higher ground; over roads that would take us through two pretty good-sized towns: Cherokee and Ida Grove; so we had half a day to kill. Lawrence suggested that we go down to the ranchers' creek and fish. There were supposed to be pickerel in the creek. Three of the Danish boys and the girl went fishing with us. We took their gun and some forks to catch the fish. When we came back to the house, we had six nice pickerel.
The Danish mother could speak nothing but, Danish. When she saw the fish, she kept saying: "Loin fiske." The boys dressed them and she fried them. We, who were tired and hungry, ate and ate. Then we told them good-bye, and went back to the shack to get ready for an early start home. (Have wondered since what Lawrence did with the money during this time).
I crawled into my bunk, and was ready for a good sleep: but before l lay down, I saw Lawrence bring in a hammer. He held it so that I would not see; but I saw it, and knew he must be thinking the same as I - the men would come and rob us. Then Lawrence carelessly shook the pillow and said. "What is the matter with this bed?" He thought I didn't see him hide the gold there.
We had not been asleep long, so it seemed, when we were all awakened by the most awful yelling and squealing I had ever heard. We were frightened half to death. The noise kept on and on; so at last the boys got nerve enough to get up and light the lantern and go around to the stable door, to see what was happening. Left alone, I was really scared. I couldn't figure out what was causing the commotion; and why the boys were staying so long. I thought surely they were being killed, and that I would be next, because of the gold. Finally they came back and told me that one of the horses had gotten loose, and had gotten back of the mules; and the mules were kicking her out; but the horse couldn't get out, so she was squealing. Lawrence told me to get up and make the coffee; that by the time we had eaten breakfast it would be daylight. I had boiled coffee the night before; so all I had to do was warm it. After we had drunk some we didn't eat much, because we were too excited. The boys went out to harness up, and I gathered the bedding. I found the bag of gold, but not the hammer. I put it in a box with our clothing, and carried it and the bedd1ng out to one of the wagons. Then Lawrence came running. He had forgotten all about the gold until then. I told him where I had put it; but he said, "Wash the coffee pot and we will put the money in it." And we did. As the east was turning gray, we started out with the two wagons for home.
As we rode along that morning, I thought of the long day that bad passed. Strange as it seems, though we rarely saw human companions, we didn't seem to have been lonesome. I thought of the lonesome life of the Danish herder, a boy of 16 who for seven days a week, with his pony and his two dogs, Fido - a big brown hound and Shep - a black and white shepherd - herded his 400 cattle. I thought of the day he passed the shack, when I asked him why he was so far from the creek; he had answered: "I can do noddings." His dog Fido bad gone home because he had hurt his foot; and Shep bad gotten stubborn, and would not help him drive the herd. Every day he drove the cattle north until the sun was straight in the south; then while be ate his lunch the dogs had their cornbread and bones. The three would turn homeward, and reach there at sundown. That was his life for years; but I soon forgot the loneliness of the Danish herder, because we were on our way home.
We made fifty miles the first day, and made camp at sundown. We spread
the bedding on the ground and lay down to sleep, the coffee pot near at band. I could not sleep; for I was afraid that we were being trailed. About midnight, I heard riders coming. "Oh, dear," I thought, "This is it." As they came nearer, I could hear them talking: two boys who had been to a dance. I heard one of them say they rode by, "Gypsies."
We got an early start the next day, and everything went nicely. All at once, Will said, "Look, what is that? It looks like a dry river bed." I looked where he was pointing, and saw a ditch the width of a wagon, and about three feet deep. Lawrence, who seemed to know all the answers looked back from the wagon in front and said. "That is the Oregon Trail."
We were in well settled country now. Late in the afternoon one of the mules stuck up her head and began hee-hawing as loud as she could. Lawrence looked back and grinned, and said, "Jenny knows that we are almost home." We had six miles to go; yet she knew. (Don't call animals dumb.)
We got home about five o'clock, and what an excitement. Mother got busy getting supper: the younger brothers and sisters asked all kinds of questions. "Had we seen Indians, buffalo, wolves, or bear?" We sat down to supper, saying nothing about the gold. Finally father asked if we had broken any land for the neighbor; then Lawrence brought in the coffee pot and shook out the gold; and said, "This is what we earned, and he paid us." Father sat stupefied; and mother cried a little; they told us to each take one gold piece, because we had earned it; but Lawrence said, "No, what would we do with so much money? It was then decided that we would all go to town next day and get clothes.
The boys got good suits and new shoes; but it was different for me. There were very few ready-made dresses; in fact, only two in the whole town. They were brown crash, two-piece dresses. They must have been about size 36. I weighed less than a hundred pounds. We bought one, though. Mother said we could take it in here and there, shorten it in the front, and that it didn’t make any difference if the back of the skirt did come to the floor. I got a black straw derby hat with a rainbow ribbon and a large bow on the side. Even now, when I think of that hat – I am 76 – I still think it was very pretty. I also got some gold earrings, ear bobs; we called them, and a broach.
The next day was the fourth of July, and we started out to celebrate in our new clothes. We went to a lake where there would be boat riding and bowery dancing. Of course, there was a crowd, but the neighbor boy soon found me, and asked me to go for a boat ride. So many people got on the boat that it was overloaded, and could not be taken out; but no one wanted to get off. Finally he and I got off and went up to the bower, where the fiddlers were tuning up. He asked me to dance a quadrille; but I said I had never danced it. He said, "It is easy. You can soon catch on." I did. That was my first quadrille, but by no means my last. Even my brothers got home before I did that night. They told Father they had left me, because I was having such a good time, boat riding
and dancing, "English," as we called the square dance. When I got, home, Father said, "A kid like you shouldn't run around with boys." But after those ten weeks out West, I didn't think I was a kid any more.

No comments: