Volume 36 , Number 3 , Winter 1997
Editors Note: Clara Harding wrote this letter to a grandson who was leaving for military service in 1942. The grandson asked why and how the family left South Dakota and came to Taney County, Mo. Jerry Gideon transcribed the letter; it is lightly edited for easier reading.
Clara Drake was born at Coldwater, Michigan, on September 7, 1866, and her future husband, James Harding, was born in Cambridge Shire (at Reach, a small village), England, on June 13, 1855. The two married in Mitchell, located in southeast South Dakota, on October 31, 1885.
We lived in a 14 room house in Goldwater, Michigan, that was our home until father died September 1882 [9.26.82]. In 1883 she [mother] took me to see my sister Frank [Frances] near Mitchel, South Dakota. She bought a farm near them and she and I lived there until I married. She lived just a 114 mile from [us], could see her at home and she could see me at home when out doors. Saw each other every day, a dear good mother. [She was] Alone until she married Mr. [Samuel] Elston. She died in 1889 [10. 16.89] and [was] buried at Mitchel, S.D.
In 1886 we raised a good crop of wheat & corn, thought we make it fine until we had to help his folks in England; a brother and wife [were] to come over to S[outh Dakota]. Then next year, only half crop [raised], no rain, we struggled along till 1890 when we had work[ed] so hard all year; for on the 4th of July we had a terrible Cyclone, took all our wheat, potatoes, and corn from [the] ground leaving us nothing in [the] crop line and broken window panes on windows. We rented the place to a neighbor and left for Mo.
Sam Jewett, sister Franks husband, took us to the train in sleigh over snow and ice. It [was] -60 below but with robes and hot soap stones we got there to Mitchel, the 9 miles. The cold there [was] not felt as in Mo. as [it is] so dry at 60 below [it is] not as cold there as 8 below here in Mo.
We lived in a good box house [in Dakota] with sod laid up around it like brick would be, the sod was cut with plow about 1 foot wide then chopped with spade to about 2 ft. long laid up as brick would be, made a very warm house for winter and took [the sod] down each spring so not to rot the house.
We burned twisted hay, corn, and had what was called a go devil. It [was] made of sheet iron like a wash boiler. We would stuff it full of hay or straw or flax straw. Flax would heat the room well for about 3 hours, but straw burned about 1 hour [was] all it last[ed]. The night Harry was born we burned corn, for snow [was] so deep [we] could not get to the hay stack and roads [were] so bad [we] could not get coal from Mitchel until next week.
We were clothed very warm so when we got to Marionville we found sunshine and much warmer weather; got there one night in November and when we got off of [the] train a hack stood there to take us to Hotel where we must go as [there was] no other place. We got in it [the hack, it] was built with seats on each side and we [were] the only ones to get on the hack. The driver started the horses and I fell off the seat down in middle between the 2 rows of seats. [I] had Sarah in my arms, [and] Jim had Harry in his lap part of the time. I sat down in the bottom till we got to the Hotel for it [the hack] just rolled all over rock; [it] seemed so queer to me, not used to such rocky roads.
But in the morning I could see why for rock [was] everywhere. We had a nice warm room with 2 beds in [it], so was comfortable. They were vary kind to us at [the] Hotel, Bibbs were their name, but soon found out that we could not stay long there, for $7.00 each week was more than we could stand, and I did the bed making and sweeping of all rooms upstairs for Harrys board. Jim tried to get work but found nothing to do. Mr. Bibb told me of a small house going to be sold on mortgage sale for 90 dollars. It was just one room with part of [a] kitchen, but [it had a] good big lot that happened to be just across the street from Danie Howard.
I went to the bank and borrowed 50 dollars for 6 months for I had 2 cows of my own up in Dakota to
be said and knew I could get it in that time. We had 60 [dollars] but must have a little to live on. Well, I got the place and the Hotel folks let us have 2 chairs and an old table and bedstead and old mattress until our stuff came [that] we had shipped. [I] found an old stove, I got [it] for 4 dollars.
I felt we were all right now if only Jim could get something to do. He finally got in with a neighbor cutting wood and selling it in town. We made it through the winter by tight-squeezing till spring came [when] he got to work at the mines in Aurora. I had written sister to sell my cows and send the money soon [as] she could. I got 75 [dollars] for them so paid the bank and had a little left to live on. But no steady work for Jim, and Dannie Howard told us of his place down here where Jim could fish and hunt. That suited him better.
So we traded the little house and lot for the Dannie Howard 80 [acres] down here, now the Woodworker place. And when the Bibbs found out we were going to move down to Taney County she came and told Jim he must not take us down there [for] we would not be there long before a rope [was] tied in a loop [and we] would be hung over the door [with someone] telling us to get out [lacunae...] lived down here but Bald Knobbers and still [lacunae...]. Jim told her we had all ready bought down here and would have to come now and see.
We had 2 wagons loaded with our stuff ready to go in [the] morning. She cried and kissed me, said she [was] so sorry to see him take me to such a place. She was a good kind woman and seemed to think I had no business down in Taney County.
Oh, such a trip over rocks, it seemed I could not stand another hour in that wagon. I ask[ed] them to let me get out and walk a ways, for I was setting on top a big box with feather bed under me holding sarah and trying to keep Harry from falling out, as Grandpa was on the seat in front of [the] wagon, we [were] in back with barrels of stuff between [us and] could hardly see them. Dannie Howard [went] on ahead leading the way with his team and a man by the name of Wail was taking the second load trying to follow Dannie, [it was] just a blaized trail through the woods [it] seemed to me.
First night camped out, Oh, how glad I was to get on my feet again, [I was] so numb could hardly stand. Traveled all next day as fast as the horses could go to get to the Hensley ferry to cross [White River] before dark. But [we] could not do it, but dark as it was, Bill Hensley came down to the ferry boat with a lantern and put us over in McKinney Bend [now Long Beach]. From ferry to Richard Howards where we were to go was just some more shaking up over [the] worse road I ever was over, got stuck going up hill near Tom Wrights and had to double up teams to get up hill. But, finally got to R. K. Howards where they were waiting for us as Dannie had wrote to them we were coming. They were vary kind to us, gave us a good supper and beds to sleep in. This was in Nov. the 27th, 1891.
The next morning the men took the wagons down to the place we had traded for house and lot in Marionville for which I gave $90 for and was to pay $100 difference for the 80 [acres] to Dannie Howard. He had rented the place to a family living there so we could not go there until he got them out, and they had to build [lacunae...] before they have any place to go. So he gave them $20 to get out and we were to go down to his fathers & mothers place to stay until we could get in the house.
So after they got the goods put in a smoke house down there they came back and Dannie took me and Harry and Sarah down there [to see] 2 old people and an old maid daughter by the name of Julia who had a boy about Harrys age. We were given a large room vary clean and good with fire place in and that night the girl and mother brought out [a] sack of cotton they had raised and picked. They sit there and talked to Dannie picking the seed out of the cotton so as to have the seed to feed the milk cows the next morning. As I found out when they asked me if I like[d] to go with them to milk, it seemed queer to me to see women folks milk for men always did it in the North. Not used to such, I wondered if I have it to do and wished I was back in Dakota. But Jim was well pleased with the place and told me I [would] get better satisfied after a while.
We staid at Dr. Howards until Dec. 31 . I remember it [was] New Years day [that] we went to the house we was to call home. As we went on to the
porch Jim opened the door, [it was] so dark I could not see where I was going when I got inside, but we left [the] door open and opened the kitchen door, only one little window in a log room 18 by 20 [and] with the porch on over [the] window, [it] made it dark. We soon sawed one window out in the west end and had more light. [We] found [it] a vary comfortable house with cellar underneath [the floor]. But [it was] run down as to the fences.
While staying at the Dr. Howards place I was nearly scared to death, for in one corner of that big room we had, was a great large thing made of Black Walnut, [it had] all great large beams and cross pieces till I imagined it was to hang folks on, for people had told me so much about such down here, I never slept much the first night and ask[ed] Jim if he knew what it was. He said [it was] some thing they had to work with he guessed, [said] for me to go to sleep, we were all right. I cried and told him [that] I wished my mother was alive, I would take my children and go back home. He said I would like it after a while.
Well, in the morning she told them I wanted to know what that thing was. The old lady laughed and said we dont want that little woman to be afraid of us so I will just show her what it is. She got a ball of carpet rags and got on the long bench there [and] moved her feet back and forth and was weaving carpet and came and got me and told me all about the different warp she used [lacunae...] me and said they would not harm us for the world. They were vary kind and good to us while [we were] there. The old maid Julia married Fred Mitchel the next winter and I went down there and baked the cake for the wedding.
Now to go back where I left off on New Years day, 1892. We found the back was out of the fire place so we carried rock from a place [where] they had had a furnice to make molasses down by a spring. It took us nearly all day to do that, but found plenty to keep us busy. I remember the last of January [was] so warm
[that] I planted some onion sets and lettuce seed in the old garden back of the house. Jim had been to Forsyth and got a spade, the only thing we had to work with. Found some old hoes we fixed up to do with and we bought 2 cows from Fred Michel for $25. He wanted to get a divorce from a woman he had married up in Bates Co. [Mo. as] she [was] no good. One cow had a lump on her jaw, the other was old, but both would have calves in summer.
Jim found it vary nice to go to [White] river and fish leaving me and children alone. Many many time I wished I was back North, for hardly any one came to see us, for we must have had some one in the war in 6 1-62 on the northern side, but I told them we had no one in the war at all. So we found after a while we had vary good neighbors [who] would do anything for us in any way. When any one [was] sick all came to help, that is, that way they [we] were used to the house be[ing] full of folks all the time until it was so I never let any one know [about] any one not well.
On Aug. 22 we bought the old home place of Pettie [in] 1892. We had sold the Dakota place and had paid Howard his $100 and could get this place joining the 80 [acres] for $650 with crops all growing, good fine corn in both fields, each side of the road. By the time we got [the] place paid for, new team to work, it but got [it had but] 3 cows with the place. We rented the Dakota place when we left, got the rent [of] $150 when we moved from Marionville, and paid Dannie Howard the $100 on the 80. So after buying the Pettie place in 1892, we traded the 80 to Charles Hillman, took old Deck & Kit, an old wagon, and he paid it out in 5 years to give us $400 for it before he got it paid out. He sold it to Fate Thompson with our consent, Fate to pay it out as Fate was to get some back pension which he did and settled for the place, giving us $250, a cow bought from Fate for $25, and horse and wagon was $125. Dannie Howards 80 [acres] costing us $190, which I sold for $400, felt we had done well on trade.
Jim always told me I had to manage the best I could [as] he [had] no education. To do so I must do what I thought best. Sometimes he held me back in things I wanted to do to make things go. But, [I] just kept trying to keep out of debt and meet expenses; fence to buy and tools to get kept me guessing most of the time. I bought a mare name[d] Birdie from Louie Betschart for 30 dollars, she had a fine colt. Bought a black mare from Rube Branson for 30 [dollars] not broke but soon could work her and Birdie,
[they] made a good team as old Deck had died.
We took the money we got from Dan Howard place [and] I put it in a tobacca sack and hung it around my neck and we all started to Springfield to get a molasses mill and corn grinder. We got as far as Spokane the first night and found the road house where we intended to stop for the night full of drunks, so dare not stay there, but Jim finally found a family who would take us in till morning. The woman put some quilts on the floor for us to sleep on and I was just scared to death for I had that money and Jim seemed to think every thing [was] all right for us [and was] unconcerned as could be.
I never closed my eyes all night for about 10 oclock some drunken men came in another room cussing and raving. I woke Jim up and wanted him to take us out of there. He got up off floor, went to see what [was] going on, and found out they were a gang of men going to hang a man named Bright because he had set fire to the house and had locked the door on his wife and children who were in the house asleep. [John Bright was hung March 12, 1892. See Quarterly, vol. 9, no. 5 (Fall 1986).] Well, we got out of there as soon as it was light enough to see to harness the horses and went to Springfield.
Camped by side of the road at night [and] built a little fire to make coffee for I had cookies and bread along for us to eat and meat all ready cooked. Got in Springfield the 3rd day [in the] morning. And [we] had to go see the first thing about a new wagon for the old one about all shuck to pieces over the rocks. Got a new Springfield wagon with wagon bows and good heavy canvas sheet for 75 [dollars] and a new molassess [molasses] mill and corn grinder and a bolt of muslin and 2 different 112 bolts of calico at 6 cts. a yard for children dresses and Blue Demin to make
shirts and overalls for Jim and Harry, and I remember I bought one whole dollars worth of thread so I [would] have plenty to use for once.
When the people we meet in the store found out where we had come from they wandered we ever go through Spokane that night as they had heard of the trouble there and said for us not [to] stop near there going home as [it was] not safe. Well, I dreaded to get anywhere near there on way home but managed to come through there in day time and Jim drove as fast as the horses could travel on the awfull roads. We finialy [finally] got to Hensley Ferry again on way home vary late at night having crossed Bull Creek 13 times and some times it was very deep. But Bill came and put us over charging $1.00, it being at night. We were glad to get home once more, with what little money we had left. So thankfull to be home safe once more.
We lived on trying to school the children and give them the best chance we could untill my mothers place in Dakota was sold. Then we took what cattle we had and moved to Aurora in Nov. 1899 when Aggie was 7 weeks old. Jessie was the first child born in Missouri Just in Nov. [11.4. 1892) after we bought the Petties place in Aug. and old Dr. Howard came to care for me and his wife [came] to help when she was born.
We bought 4 lots in Aurora and built a large one room. Mr. Mayo built it for us before we moved up there. When he thought he could have it done we got Fate Thompson to take [a] load of goods and we a load and started on road to give the children a better chance in school as had had only 4 or 5 months here in [a] year. We got as far as Reeds Spring by night and camped for the night. I remember I was so weak and tired with baby that Fate told me to set down on wagon seat [that] they had taken off the wagon. He would build the fire and help Sarah get the lunch out. Sarah was always so good to help me even when young and Harry had to help Jim with the cattle [that] we were taking up to sell. I think it was 6 head. Sold them to help pay on [the Aurora] place, didnt get much, think it was $150 for them, but must let them go [as we] could not keep them there.
When we got there the roof was just half on the house, the other not finished, but Jim and Fate helpied] Mayo untill they had it covered. Jim got work in the mines and we were doing fine in every way and all so much better satisfied, could go to Church and Sunday School, all so different then [than] down here. The children seemed to like it better to[ol. But in 1903 as we had lost Birdie the mare dying on [lacunae...] ground, and I had sold the Black mare so she would not die for twice what I gave Rube Branson for her, we had to buy a team to come back to where your grandfather was bound to come "where the children could help make the living."
I did not want to come for [I] could see nothing for my children down there but hard work and no way to make something of them selves, while they would have much better chance there where they could be in town and get the better school. But back we must come and did and settled again on the old home place where he would help the children put in crop in Spring, then leave for Kansas to his brothers every June, the children having to work the crop, for he expected them to do so. He worked there in Kansas and would perhaps bring home enough money to pay the taxes in fall. I would sell cattle, calves, or eggs and butter to get along, taking eggs to Kirbyville sometimes and only getting 2 cts. a doz. But it would help and pay postage on a letter or 2 I might want to write.
James was born Oct. 4, 1904. We bought a team when we left Aurora to come back, but still had the wagon, bought Nellie and Bell. Your mother remember[s] them, and the rest from now on God has helped [us] through it all.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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