On August 15, we’ll be hosting an open house at the home Nels and Emma built in 1887. It made the National Register of Historic Places last year. More details on that are available here.
In honor of Sesquicentennial Plus One, I’m devoting the Speaking of Idaho blog to my family’s history during August.
Blackfoot River, Idaho Territory
December 2, 1870
My Dear Father:
I am not sure you will approve of the step I have taken, but I hope you will. I was married on the ninth of last month to a young man I had become acquainted with at the home of my aunt. Perhaps it was not the sensible thing to do, but you see, since my divorce two years ago I have been just sort of drifting. I left good friends and good opportunities in Montana to come here to my nearest of kin, thinking I would be more contented, but I found the work with my aunt very hard and the conditions, in general, harder than the work. You disapproved of my going on the stage, and after the baby came I was thankful that you had. For babies cry for a home with the first breath they draw. So my baby, who is becoming quite a lad, is to have a home, built by a
stepfather, but a home for all of that.
We had a queer wedding journey. I wish some of your friends there in that great city of London might have seen us and smiled, I was sitting in the covered wagon with my little boy, while the prospective bridegroom trudged along in the dust and sand trying to get two yoke of oxen over the ground fast enough to reach a justice of the peace before we were overtaken by winter. They are not record-breaking cattle, but they are as good as any in the valley, even though they did consume eight days in making the trip to Malad.
The journey was not unpleasant, for the weather was fine, as you well know, it usually is here in the fall. At night the air would be crisp and cool, but my good comrade tied the cover down tightly over the wagon, so my boy and I were safe and snug while he stood guard over us. The country is full of wolves and Indians, but neither seem at all hostile toward us. As you know, the greatest fear the traveler entertains is that his oxen may stray away. That reminds me that I have not told you why we are starting our new home on the Blackfoot River. Nels has been doing some freighting during the time I had known him and once when the cattle slipped away from him during the night, they came to this very spot. The stage road is about six miles from here, so he soon followed them and found a wonderful little valley divided from the Snake River Valley by a strip of bench land and not visible from the stage line.
From that day he has carried a vision with him, a vision of the home that we are founding today. Oh, father, it is a bleak looking place to think of spending one’s life in, but we have pure water, fresh air, fish and game in abundance, and room, room, any amount of it.
Our capital in stock was $125, and it took most of it to buy a cook stove and lumber for a floor in the cabin that is to be. We brought up some freight for Uncle and received in payment a small amount of flour, but I think enough to last through the winter. And we have, my dear father, your parting gift to me, three cows. Uncle kept the increase for the trouble they had been to him, but we have the cows and are truly grateful to you. Don’t worry about us. We are both young and both able and willing to work, so that perseverance is all we need. Besides, this is luxury compared with the hard times in Utah some years back. We all came through even that, and you were always cheerful, giving your shares to mother and to us children and going without yourself.
Poor Mother, how she must have suffered! She could not stand the way of the West, for she had been accustomed to comforts. With me it is different, I have no recollection of anything but privation, and as long as I can see the sun rise I am going to have courage, but oh, do not ask me to come to you. That dreadful, sickening stretch of water lies between us, and that dreadful London fog will be there to greet me, so I cannot come. How I wish you had stayed with me, since Mother was never permitted to reach her beloved England anyway, but we might have blamed ourselves if you had not made the effort.
There are times, though, when I need you so. I need your hopeful philosophy, your chronic content. I shall grow old gladly if I can, but hope to attain some measure of your contentment. Don’t worry about me, Father, there will be no drunkenness in this marriage, and therefore no divorce. Sometimes I feel uneasy because of my lack of real, all forgiving love that guided my other marriage, but again I wonder what that great love gave me but misery. There is no deception, for my husband knows that I do not care as I should, but he, foolish boy, thinks that he cares enough for both of us. I call him a boy, though he is two years older, but he looks so very youthful. And a marriage, a divorce and a son make me feel very ancient.
I wish I could put on paper some of the youngster’s attempts at conversation. It would do your heart good. He calls his stepfather “Nee,” the best he can do for Nels. Anyway, you can rest assured that he is a good healthy, normal youngster. Whatever frailties were brought from the old country to shorten the lives of your children have been weeded out in this generation.
With our best love,
Tomorrow, Homesteading on the Blackfoot