Plains Settlers: Wyoming Settlers' Arrival Marred by Diphtheria

Family of Wyoming settlers struggles through settlement of rugged West land.

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My parents and us three little girls were living in Iowa when the lure of becoming plains settlers, free for our settling there and improving it, proved too much for our dad. He, along with other men from Iowa and our Uncle Frank, went west to the wild plains, we became Wyoming settlers, without a tree, with nothing but buffalo grass and sagebrush.

It was the year 1908 when my parents decided to make the move. The horses, one cow, chickens, household goods, machinery, and our dog Bessie were shipped by railroad. Dad traveled with the animals to take care of them. Mother and we girls went on the passenger train.

On the train, I came down with diphtheria, and when we arrived at Pine Bluffs, Wyoming, we were moved into a small house and quarantined there--no one could go out or come in. Our dad decided to stay with his family until I was well.

So all our belongings had to be taken care of. It was lucky for us that Uncle Frank had been there long enough to have his place improved, so he and some friends from Iowa took our things to their home to care for them.

The men, with Uncle Frank in charge, built a barn and started a house for us.

Dad had to have a well drilled; our well was over 300 feet deep. He put up a windmill to pump water and made a tank to hold a reserve supply. He had to make fences and plow the ground, and it took good horses on a breaking plow to turn that land. We made a sod house for our chickens, and Mother had a garden. She planted a yellow rose bush she had brought from Iowa, and the little thing lived all those bad winters.

All the families raised hogs and cattle and butchered and cured meat. Fruit was shipped in by rail to Pine Bluffs. Everyone went to get some for winter. Dad would take a load of wheat to the elevator and bring back a load of apples. We had a big cellar, and the apples had a bin of their own.

We lived far from town so there was no doctor near us. Dad and Mother took care of us children. If we took a cold, we got turpentine and lard rubbed on the chest and neck, and an old black stocking was wrapped around our neck. Dad also kept a bottle of whiskey – for medicine only. We sipped a hot toddy for anything from a sick stomach to the flu.

For entertainment, the families would gather at a home and have an old-fashioned dance. We kids were put to bed in a bedroom. All the women took a cake or some other food for refreshments.

Farming was a hard way of life. Sometimes there would not be enough rain, and when it did rain, we might also have a big hailstorm which ruined the wheat crop. The winters with the blizzards were terrible; we often lost cattle in the sudden storms when the cows could not get to the cattle sheds. They would huddle together and some would die.

When my folks could take no more, they sold out and moved to Missouri. That was many years ago. 

Mrs. Harry Stanley 
Kirksville, Missouri

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.