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Death Valley in '49
We arrived in Detroit safely, and a few minutes answered to land our wagons and goods, when we rolled outward in a westerly direction. We found a very muddy roads, stumps and log bridges plenty, making our rate of travel very slow. When out upon our road about 30 miles, near Ypsilanti, the thick forest we had been passing through grew thinner, and the trees soon dwindled down into what they called oak openings, and the road became more sandy. When we reached McCracken's Tavern we began to enquire for Ebenezer Manley and family, and were soon directed to a large house near by where he was stopping for a time.
We drove up to the door and they all came out to see who the new comers were. Mother saw me first and ran to the wagon and pulled me off and hugged and kissed me over and over again, while the tears ran down her cheeks, Then she would hold me off at arm's length, and look me in the eye and say--"I am so glad to have you again"; and then she embraced me again and again. "You are our little man," said she, "You have come over this long road, and brought us our good horse and our little wagon." My sister Polly two years older than I, stood patiently by, and when mother turned to speak to uncle and aunt, she locked arms with me and took me away with her. We had never been separated before in all our lives and we had loved each other as good children should, who have been brought up in good and moral principles. We loved each other and our home and respected our good father and mother who had made it so happy for us.
We all sat down by the side of the house and talked pretty fast telling our experience on our long journey by land and water, and when the sun went down we were called to supper, and went hand in hand to surround the bountiful table as a family again. During the conversation at supper father said to me--"Lewis, I have bought you a smooth bore rifle, suitable for either ball or shot." This, I thought was good enough for any one, and I thanked him heartily. We spent the greater part of the night in talking over our adventures since we left Vermont, and sleep was forgotten by young and old.
Next morning father and uncle took the horse and little wagon and went out in search of Government land. They found an old acquaintance in Jackson county and Government land all around him, and, searching till they found the section corner, they found the number of the lots they wanted to locate on--200 acres in all. They then went to the Detroit land office and secured the pieces they had chosen.
Father now bought a yoke of oxen, a wagon and a cow, and as soon as we could get loaded up our little emigrant train started west to our future home, where we arrived safely in a few days and secured a house to live in about a mile away from our land. We now worked with a will and built two log houses and also hired 10 acres broken, which was done with three or four yoke of oxen and a strong plow. The trees were scattered over the ground and some small brush and old limbs, and logs which we cleared away as we plowed. Our houses went up very fast--all rough oak logs, with oak puncheons, or hewed planks for a floor, and oak shakes for a roof, all of our own make. The shakes were held down upon the roof by heavy poles, for we had no nails, the door of split stuff hung with wooden hinges, and the fire place of stone laid up with the logs, and from the loft floor upward the chimney was built of split stuff plastered heavily with mud. We have a small four-paned window in the house. We then built a log barn for our oxen, cow and horse and got pigs, sheep and chickens as fast as a chance offered.
As fast as possible we fenced in the cultivated land, father and uncle splitting out the rails, while a younger brother and myself, by each getting hold of an end of one of them managed to lay up a fence four rails high, all we small men could do. Thus working on, we had a pretty well cultivated farm in the course of two or three years, on which we produced wheat, corn and potatoes, and had an excellent garden. We found plenty of wild cranberries and whortleberries, which we dried for winter use. The lakes were full of good fish, black bass and pickerel, and the woods had deer, turkeys, pheasants, pigeons, and other things, and I became quite an expert in the capture of small game for the table with my new gun. Father and uncle would occasionally kill a deer, and the Indians came along and sold venison at times.
One fall after work was done and preparations were made for the winter, father said to me:--"Now Lewis, I want you to hunt every day--come home nights--but keep on till you kill a deer." So with his permission I started with my gun on my shoulder, and with feelings of considerable pride. Before night I started two deer in a brushy place, and they leaped high over the oak bushes in the most affrighted way. I brought my gun to my shoulder and fired at the bounding animal when in most plain sight. Loading then quickly, I hurried up the trail as fast as I could and soon came to my deer, dead, with a bullet hole in its head. I was really surprised myself, for I had fired so hastily at the almost flying animal that it was little more than a random shot. As the deer was not very heavy I dressed it and packed it home myself, about as proud a boy as the State of Michigan contained. I really began to think I was a capital hunter, though I afterward knew it was a bit of good luck and not a bit of skill about it.
It was some time after this before I made another lucky shot. Father would once in a while ask me:--"Well can't you kill us another deer?" I told him that when I had crawled a long time toward a sleeping deer, that I got so trembly that I could not hit an ox in short range. "O," said he, "You get the buck fever--don't be so timid--they won't attack you." But after awhile this fever wore off, and I got so steady that I could hit anything I could get in reach of.
We were now quite contented and happy. Father could plainly show us the difference between this country and Vermont and the advantages we had here. There the land was poor and stony and the winters terribly severe. Here there were no stones to plow over, and the land was otherwise easy to till. We could raise almost anything, and have nice wheat bread to eat, far superior to the "Rye-and-Indian" we used to have. The nice white bread was good enough to eat without butter, and in comparison this country seemed a real paradise.
The supply of clothing we brought with us had lasted until now--more than two years--and we had sowed some flax and raised sheep so that we began to get material of our own raising, from which to manufacture some more. Mother and sister spun some nice yarn, both woolen and linen, and father had a loom made on which mother wove it up into cloth, and we were soon dressed up in bran new clothes again. Domestic economy of this kind was as necessary here as it was in Vermont, and we knew well how to practice it. About this time the emigrants began to come in very fast, and every piece of Government land any where about was taken. So much land was ploughed, and so much vegetable matter turned under and decaying that there came a regular epidemic of fever and ague and bilious fever, and a large majority of the people were sick. At our house father was the first one attacked, and when the fever was at its height he was quite out of his head and talked and acted like a crazy man. We had never seen any one so sick before, and we thought he must surely die, but when the doctor came he said:--"Don't be alarmed. It is only 'fever 'n' agur,' and no one was ever known to die of that." Others of us were sick too, and most of the neighbors, and it made us all feel rather sorrowful. The doctor's medicines consisted of calomel, jalap and quinine, all used pretty freely, by some with benefit, and by others to no visible purpose, for they had to suffer until the cold weather came and froze the disease out. At one time I was the only one that remained well, and I had to nurse and cook, besides all the out-door work that fell to me. My sister married a man near by with a good farm and moved there with him, a mile or two away. When she went away I lost my real bosom companion and felt very lonesome, but I went to see her once in a while, and that was pretty often, I think. There was not much going on as a general thing. Some little neighborhood society and news was about all. There was, however, one incident which occurred in 1837, I never shall forget, and which I will relate in the next chapter.
Death Valley in '49 - Table of Contents - Chapter 3 - Previous < > Next
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