Nightmare Crossing Brings Young Couple to Land of Opportunity

Family wonders if ancestor’s depression was brought about by predisposition or her difficult time finding her way to America.

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An arduous journey to the land of opportunity leads family to question whether their ancestor was born with a congenital predisposition to depression, or did she have a great deal to be depressed about? My grandmother, however, never spoke of regrets, only of that nightmare of an Atlantic crossing.

Kate Margaret was born in 1847 in Wyke Regis, county of Dorsetshire, England, the second in a family of 11 children. They were socially prominent people; her father owned a grocery business and bakery. As Kate grew up, she helped out in the business as book-keeper and clerk. She was vivacious and fun loving. Through the years the tale has been told that she raced a horse against a train. She was adventuresome, too, which may have led to her later problems.

On a nearby farm, a young man was growing up who soon found more and more excuses to go to either the store or the bakery. His and Kate's friendship developed into love, and, in 1873, the young couple was married in the great old Episcopal church in Wyke Regis.

The young groom was adventuresome, too, and very soon the two told their families that they had decided to set sail for America. If Kate could have foreseen the nearly three weeks of dreadful seasickness during which she almost died, she may have reconsidered the decision that changed their lives forever.

She lived to arrive in pre-Ellis Island, New York. From there they took a train to Buffalo, where they boarded a ship that was supposed to carry them on The Great Lakes to Duluth, Minnesota.

A little black cloud seemed to hover over them, because the ship broke down. A second ship also broke down. All the time she was on the water, the young bride had the queasiness in her stomach reminiscent of the ocean voyage.

The third ship carried them to Duluth, where they took the train to an area east of Moorhead, Minnesota.

Being used to the finer things in life, living in a shanty with Indians peering in the windows soon brought tears from Kate. She had never seen Indians before, and though they seemed mostly friendly, their presence still frightened her.

Even though she loved her husband desperately, Kate was homesick. And try as she might, it was increasingly hard to hold back her tears. Finally it became virtually impossible. She was unhappy in her new home, and her memories of their terrible journey across the Atlantic made her realize that she could never endure the trip back to her homeland.

At last, the young husband, with problems of his own trying to farm the land, took his bewildered bride to an older woman in the village of Hawley. There Kate had someone to talk to, someone who understood when Kate had morning sickness. Mrs. Chant spent hours listening to the young woman verbalize her feelings.

A baby girl, Blanche Eliza, was born in that home. She was only 6 weeks old when the family of three moved to a primitive home on the land George had acquired by pre-emption. Gradually the hard-working farmer provided his family with a six-room house on the prairie – a mansion in those days.

Four more children were born: Rose, Kate (my mother), Charles and young George. It must have bothered my grandmother to see her children attend a one-room school, instructed by a teacher who had barely finished eight grades herself. Kate had been able to attend a private school in England.

Did she ever regret having left home and family to venture to a new land? She never said so. But she often mentioned the trip across the bouncing waves of the Atlantic.

As the children grew and married, George prospered as a farmer. He built a two-story home in Hawley, where they retired.

The one time I saw Grandmother, when I was 5 or 6, she was bedridden and sent my mother to fetch a doll from a cupboard. It was the only gift I remember receiving from her, but in receiving it, I understood she loved me.

I admire her for her courage and determination. She was one of many hardy pioneers.

Mary Gaylord Balsam
Lake, Wisconsin


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.