Leaving Quebec, Canada, Provided Great Opportunity for Woman
Although Canada is an adjoining country to America, people who lived there in the 1800s were, as a rule, British subjects.
In 1861, when my Grandmother Catherine was 16, she made a trip to Iowa to visit her aunt. She planned to visit for about a month.
She liked northeast Iowa and dreaded thinking about going back to Quebec, where she and her sisters had to do the farming. Her father had died and her young brother was forced to serve in the military. One of her sisters, Winnifred, was slowly losing her sight.
Her visit was a happy one. She enjoyed the Iowa neighbors and at a house party, she met 22-year-old Jerremiah. He had come from the state of New York, where his family was woolen mills people. Iowa was strange to him, but he had relatives in the area, and of course, there was Catherine.
It seemed that the age-old adage, “love at first sight” had taken place. A whirlwind courtship ensued and they planned to be wed at the little country church known as Paint Rock.
Catherine’s aunt and uncle were delighted that she could stay, and they told them of a 100-acre farm on which they could lay claim. However, there were no buildings on this fine and fertile land.
The aunt and uncle again claimed that this was a great venture, so the deal grew. They endowed them with a small start, giving them a wagon-which could be converted into living quarters-a team of horses, two milk cows, 12 laying hens, a walking plow, a bed, a homemade dresser, hay to feed the horses, feed for the hens and a harness for the team of horses.
Of course, it was to be remembered that Jerremiah was a city boy who had never been near a horse, much less harnessed one. That was where Catherine came to the rescue. She taught him how to farm. He loved it, and neither of them ever returned to their native homes. There was wood to be cut to keep them warm, and lots of rabbits and squirrels provided them with meat.
When spring came, their little farm was tilled and planted. They cut logs to begin building a house. Now they could keep nice and warm and really begin living comfortably. That log cabin was later sided and expanded. The log house became the kitchen of the house where I was born.
The summer brought fruit from the woods. Walnuts, hickory and butter nuts were abundant. Every day was a new experience. When the grain was harvested, it had to be stored until the Mississippi froze over because the only place to get wheat ground into flour was in Prairie du Chien. There were no bridges to cross.
Grandma made candles from tallow, and she often told of putting them in the windows to keep the wolves away while Grandpa was getting the wheat ground into flour. The wolves’ bloodcurdling howls made a fearful sound.
Grandma was three-fourths French and one-fourth Irish. She could speak some French, but since she wanted to become an American citizen, she completely embraced English.
Their family grew to six: five boys and one girl. The youngest in the family was my father. He spent most of his life on that farm until he died at 51.
When their family had grown with the births of three little ones, Jerremiah told Catherine that they had some Indian neighbors. This tribe were en route across the state when bad weather threatened them, so they set up tepees in which to live. One of the braves had been hiding in the woods, but he was not a threat-probably more curious than anything.
One morning, there was a rap on the door. When Catherine opened it, there stood an Indian. He couldn’t speak English, but he used gestures to let her know that they had a baby who was ill. It never occurred to her to refuse; she gathered up whatever home remedies she had and followed him.
They trudged through the woods to their tepee. She was dismayed when she saw a 3-month-old baby burning up with fever. She heated water in which to bathe her but her condition got worse. She made a cross and pointed heaven-ward and the mother nodded, so she baptized the baby-calling her Catherine. In less than an hour the baby died in her mother’s arms. The Indians had a meeting and wondered where to bury baby Catherine. Grandma motioned to her farm and imitated someone digging a grave. They nodded because they knew they would be moving on before long.
The mother wrapped a piece of robe around the baby, but Grandma shook her head and indicated that she would be back. She went home and got one of her baby’s baptismal gowns and returned to dress the little child. They carried her to our farm and dug a small grave. She was laid to rest.
Grandma made a cross to put on the grave and surrounded it with smooth rocks, which she painted with whitewash. This she did regularly. Several weeks later the Indians were gone, but at least baby Catherine had a permanent resting place. For years, until our farm was sold, we put a whitewash coat on the rocks.
When Jerremiah was 65 he died suddenly, but Catherine’s love for him lived on. The night she died at age 83, she called his name and smiled.
The changes that this young couple coped with-coming to a new area-certainly tried their marriage, but it was a happy life.
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.
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