Homesteading on Wisconsin Land Near Belle Plaine

Times got incredibly tight for one family homesteading Wisconsin land near Belle Plaine.

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My folks pioneered for eight years near Belle Plaine in Wisconsin. My father spoke of these years as the best-years-of-his-life simply wasted! Well-meaning friends had urged him to buy a piece of Wisconsin land in wintertime, and when the snows melted away, Father discovered he had bought a rock pile.

After those years of working away from home to earn enough for food and payments on the rock pile, Father decided to quit Wisconsin and go west in search of better land. With his wife and eight sons he left in the spring of 1875. The highlight of the first leg of the journey was the spectacle of the city of Oshkosh in flames. Oshkosh was burning as they drove by.

The Grants, my father's family, settled near Rhodes (then Edenville), Iowa. Mother afterward told us they were so short of money and food that they surely would have starved if their neighbors, poor people, too, had not sent in a little food. One kind woman sent over a pan of little new potatoes and Mother hid them until dinnertime so they would be a surprise for the children. They ate the potatoes with salt; there was no milk for gravy.

Father heard of a sod-breaking job 10 miles away, and although he was suffering from dysentery and the plow nearly jerked him to death as it dug into the tough-rooted sod, he lived through the week, eating mostly cornmeal gruel cooked with milk which his boss's wife prepared for him.

When Saturday night came, Father asked for his week's wages, but the farmer said he had no money. Father insisted that he must draw his pay so he could get a few groceries to take home for his wife and children. When the man still refused, Father, sick and desperate, said "You must pay me or else. . ." He got it and walked the 10 miles home carrying groceries in a sack over his shoulder.

The family grew to 10 with the birth of a ninth son and a daughter in Iowa.

The farm Father bought near Edenville was finally paid for, though it took many years of privation and hard work.

Gertrude Grant Herzog
Casper, Wyoming

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.