Two generations earlier, an Illinois homesteader acquired more than others by taking a chance near Rockford, Illinois.
In 1838 my great-grandfather and his brother bought a large tract of land lying between the Rock and Kishwaukee rivers near Rockford, Illinois. In February of the following year, Great-grandfather left his family at the home in Mt. Morris, New York, and with two wagons loaded with tools and provisions, started to the new farm, a trip which would take four weeks. He spent the summer putting in crops and arranging a home. In September he returned to New York for his wife and six children.
The family and three other families, who were moving West, traveled by steamer from Buffalo to Chicago, arriving at Chicago on a Sunday morning.
Rain fell all that day, and since the town of Chicago was laid out on low ground, it was terribly muddy. That evening the family, carrying tallow candle lanterns, walked on narrow plank sidewalks to service in a church at the corner of Clark and Washington streets. They all agreed they wouldn't settle in that swampy town for anything anyone could offer them.
The following day they began the three-day journey to Rockford. Because there were no hotels on the way, the travelers slept on the floor of cabins along the way, using their own bedding.
Great-grandfather had chosen land that had a horseshoe-shaped terrace running thru it. He built his house on this high ground and named his place Terrace Farm. The house, with seven rooms, was exceptionally large for those days. There was a cellar under it, too, and it was kept filled with vegetables.
Itinerant preachers made the place a regular stopping point, and worship services were often held in the house on Sunday afternoon or evening.
For two winters children of the neighborhood gathered there for school. Sometimes as many as 25 came.
The settlers wanted their children to have a good education, so several families joined together and started an academy for older students a few miles west of Rockford. Choosing a name for the academy and the town surrounding it was not hard. Since they had come from Mt. Morris, no other name was considered. My grandfather was a pupil there.
Great-grandfather's home was always open to newcomers, and many stayed with him while building a place to live. Those with destinations farther west often stayed overnight. One such family had a sick child, and my great-grandmother insisted they stay until the child was well. The illness turned out to be smallpox and all the family was stricken. To neighbors who scolded Great-grandmother for keeping them, she replied that the Lord would have thought pretty poorly of her had she turned them away.
My grandfather was 13 when the family came to Illinois. He plowed much of the farm, virgin prairie, with a walking plow. Later the land was divided into four or five farms. After my grandfather was married, he bought out the others in the family and he lived on the farm for a long time.
Grandmother was one of the first in the neighborhood to beautify her yard. She planted flowers of all kinds. Of great interest to all who visited her home was a tub she set out under a tree each spring, with goldfish and pond lilies in it. In the fall she put the tub in the cellar to keep over the winter.
Several years my grandfather bought hogs from neighbors and drove them on foot to Chicago. It was a long slow journey. In later years he told us how he would drive the hogs into enclosures beside the hotel (or tavern as it was called then) and for a dollar he would be provided with a bed for the night, breakfast, feed for a team, and free whiskey-which he never drank. The bed would be in a loft where a half dozen men or more would sleep. He put his money in the hotel safe because he never knew what kind of roommates he might have.
One day people of the community saw a heavy cloud of smoke along the eastern horizon. Two or three days later they learned that the town of Chicago had burned. They were sure it would never be rebuilt, for it was such a low, swampy place. How astonished they would be if they could see Chicago today!
Grandfather sold that farm and moved to western Iowa.
During World War I, the land with some adjacent lands, was taken by the government to create Camp Grant.
Mrs. John L. Strosahl
Lime Springs, Iowa
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.