The Ellis Farm, situated in Elk Township, Delaware County, Iowa, two miles southwest of the village of Greeley, has been the property of the family for almost a century and a quarter. Never since the 15th day of August 1853, has the title been transferred from the family name. Through the vicissitudes encountered in accumulating the money to purchase this land, it was the dream of a home of his own which spurred William B. Ellis on toward his goal. When the land was bought, it was the desire to develop his dream into a reality which upheld Mr. Ellis’ courage in the face of death and disaster.
As the mainspring is to the watch, so is the secret keynote of each man’s life to his deeds. For over fifty years the process of transforming the farm into a home was guided by this man. Knowledge of the movement Is background is necessary for an understanding of its development. To appreciate the present Ellis farm, one must study the life of William B. Ellis for an explanation of the motives prompting his choice of his home and his methods of developing it.
If in some small measure this history aids the Ellis descendants to more deeply appreciate the things for which our ancestors made this struggle, the writer will feel well repaid for the work of writing the history of The Ellis Home Farm.
Luella E. Cook
THE ELLIS HOME FARM
The Growth of a Dream
The parents of William B. Ellis were Thomas Ellis and Johanna Barber Ellis. Of the nationality or birthplace of either, no actual facts are available, but Thomas M. Ellis, their youngest son, once stated to the writer that he believed his father had said that he was of Welsh descent and that he was born in Vermont.
Thomas Ellis Sr., school-teacher by profession, was looked up to as a neighborhood oracle. It was he who examined the would-be school-ma’ams and school-masters of the neighborhood. Equally proficient as a grammarian and as a speller, he was very exacting with his pupils. He was known as a pious pillar of the Universalist church, and as a man who insisted on wearing stiffly starched white shirts every day. Report has it, that in a day when tobacco chewing was the rule rather than the exception, he refused to form the habit for the simple reason that he didn’t care to risk soiling his immaculate white shirts.
Johanna Barber was a wiry, nervous woman with quick movements. She was a note-worthy homemaker and a great manager. No doubt her ability in this line was useful on the occasions when her husband’s none-too-large salary was overdue, and she was confronted with the problems of raising her family and keeping her husband’s wardrobe restocked. Malachi, the oldest son, was born in 1821, Jerusha in 1818, William Barber, the subject of this sketch in 1827 and Thomas Malachi in 1838. A daughter, Ann, was born sometime between 1825 and 1838, but the actual date is unknown.
In 1833 the family moved from New York to Linesville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania. Six years previous to this time had occurred the death of Malachi, the oldest son, an industrious and capable boy. While helping his father in woods was crushed beneath a log which rolled downhill on him. The parents, especially the mother, never ceased to grieve for the loss of this child. The father was already deeply attached to Jerusha, who was always his “pet” of the family. It might be that the mother transferred her affections and attentions to William Barber, born that year.
Sometime during the years of child-rearing, the busy Johanna Ellis received into her home an adopted daughter, Rosetta Jane Fellows, who was about the same age as Ann. The girl’s mother was dead, and the Ellis’s gave her their name legally, and she was as much a part of the family as the other children. Years later when she was married to a man who was very cruel to her, and she had developed tuberculosis, Ann cared for her as readily – as if she had been her own sister, contracted the disease, and died one year later. William Barber Ellis told few stories of his life in the years preceding his mother’s death in 1841.
He did relate his youthful grief at the loss of a pet steer of which he was very proud and fond. Just as he would have tied a horse, he tied the steer in a low-mangered stall beside another. The larger steer pitched the smaller one into the next stall on his back, and it was soon dead.
Boys in those days had to work hard, and the Ellis family was none-too-well-to-do. William said that his desire to own a home on a farm on the prairies was born when he was a boy of ten or twelve. He had been busy all afternoon picking up brush and rocks and the ache in his boyish shoulders, and possibly the hunger in his boy’s stomach, told him that it must be night and that he could rest. He looked up at the sun and at the shadows. Imagine his disappointment when his keen-eyed observation convinced him that it was only three o’clock. Said he, “I resolved then and there, that when I was a man, I was going to have a farm away out on the prairies and that it would be free from trees and rocks.”
Working Toward the Dream
Shortly before or after his wife’s death, Thomas Ellis, Sr., purchased a farm. It was covered with trees and rocks. The hard maples furnished excellent sap for maple syrup and sugar before they were cut. The task of gathering the sap fell all too frequently to William. The sugar camp always spelled drudgery to him. He was willing to work, and work hard, but he hated the colds which he contracted during the sloppy season, when he had to stumble over rocks, when he went from tree to tree, through the thawing snow gathering sap.
Year after year, William and his father worked at clearing away the trees, brush, and stones. “Year by year,” stated Thomas Ellis, Jr. “the idea of going west became more firmly implanted in William’s mind.”
In his efforts to pay for his farm, Thomas Ellis, Sr. spared neither himself or his son. When the district could not pay his teacher’s salary in money, he took it in wood, and with William’s assistance, he split cordwood, which he sold as occasion offered. Using an ax, day in and day out made William an adept in the art. Later the skill stood him in good stead, but to a lad between fourteen and seventeen this grinding, exhausting labor only served to deepen his disgust with the whole situation.
Talk of western migration was rife. The panic of 1837 had left hard times in its wake. Some of the Ellis’s neighbors had gone west. They wrote back letters to the home folks of land to be had for the payment of a small sum per acre. William must have been of a practical mind even then, for at sixteen he began to save money for the home he was resolved to have.
Though he attended school intermittently winters, until he was about twenty-one, and aided his father between times, yet never did he miss a chance to earn an honest penny. He cut cordwood “on his own” and sold it at twenty-five cents a cord. He worked on a farm during the three summer months for twelve dollars a month.
Life had its outstanding moments even during these years. Anxious to catch some young squirrels, William climbed one of the tallest of the hemlock trees. A squirrel jumped down, William was startled. He half lost his hold; he grabbed wildly to regain it, succeeded, but became very dizzy. He slid safely to the ground, but he was never afterward able to overcome his fear of climbing.
Thomas Ellis, Jr. related the story of his heedlessly wading into a sink-hole. Twenty-one year old William jumped to the aid of the floundering nine-year-old who could not swim. Continued Thomas Jr., “It didn’t take me long to climb on top of William’s shoulders.” From that time on William’s hearing seemed impaired and it grew worse with advancing years.
William was by no means a recluse. He attended all the neighborhood entertainments and lyceums as well as church services. No doubt his proud and proper sister, Jerusha, coached him as to his proper conduct and prodded him about his manners and morals as she did in later years.
One of William’s favorite tales dealt with the outwitting of his sisters, Jerusha and Anna. The stylish young men of that day wore their hair long very long. Jerusha and Anna admired the vogue and decided that their brother should be as stylish as any of the other girls’ brothers. They planned to bring about their desire by the simple expedient of refusing to cut William’s long, dark hair. In vain he begged and stormed. They were his barbers. Lack of funds settled that matter. The season was hot. On the hottest of these days, William, alone in the woods, knelt down before a fallen tree, pulled his long locks forward, and with his keen bladed axe hacked and sawed away at his hair. The despair and the mortification of his sisters at the jagged result were so great that they were glad to trim his hair without further ado.
William wrestled for pastime and had something of a reputation among the young men of the neighborhood. Following one of the lyceum meetings, when William, now almost a man grown, and several of his friends were starting home, a group of men from outside the neighborhood rushed up. A man weighing fifty pounds more than young Ellis placed himself in William’s way and sneered, “So you are the one who wants to wrestle,” and without further warning, he gave William one quick jerk which almost uncoupled his back. William never wrestled for pleasure again! In later years another fight, aggravated this old injury so as to incapacitate William for a time.
After William became twenty-one, he became more and more ill at ease with the results of his father’s business methods. Thomas Ellis Sr. had a sister who had married Hiram Kent. William came to depend more and more on his Uncle Hiram’s advice. During one of the lean years of the later 1840’s he worked for Mr. Kent during a part of one winter. Kent had enough wood out for fireplace use and then sat through the winter during only the necessary chores. Thomas Ellis Sr. worked hard all winter and ended the season eight dollars in debt. “Buy when low, sell when high” was Hiram Kent’s laconic advice, and William never forgot it, or that winter with the Kent’s.
A phrenologist’s advice was much valued at this time, so William went to one He was told that he had a large bump of caution and that no one would ever slip up behind him. Evidently, the phrenologist was something of a character reader.
The pile of money was slowly increasing. Two maiden ladies employed William for two or three years. He often told of their refusal to be slaves to their housework in a day, and in a community, when a failure to be a good housewife was almost the equivalent of a crime. After each meal, those women hurriedly did up the work, swept the floor in the middle, threw the corn husk broom in the corner and sat until the next meal.
Because he was careful and painstaking, William was somewhat in demand as a workman. In 1852 he hired out to oversee the moving of a barn. His, wages were raised the second day, and a successful season seemed ahead. Imagine his disappointment, when a few days later, the wire holding a pulley broke, and threw him, as he leaned over a rope which passed through the pulley, some distance, stunning him and breaking his arm.
In this state of affairs, he listened with a more favorable ear to the suggestion previously made by Thomas Jr. Thomas was selling books. He wanted William to follow him over his territory and try for sales where Thomas Jr. had failed. Much to William’s amusement, he outsold Thomas Jr., and to his surprise, he found he really liked the work and made a profit from the season.
William was approaching twenty-six years of age. He had saved four hundred dollars. Thomas Sr. had not learned to curb his temper or his dictatorial requirements of his grown son with the passing of a year, so one spring, that of 1853, Thomas Sr., William, and Thomas Jr. were in the woods hewing lumber for a building. William was scoring a log. He and his father had a few words.
Did something suddenly click in William’s mind? Did he suddenly realize, “I’m free, and I’m going,” or had he already planned to leave at the first pretext? One cannot but incline to the latter belief, given the action he took. Unhurriedly, he drove his ax blade into the end of the log, turned on heel, and without a word to his father started westward. His father and his family never heard from him until he arrived at the home of Hiram Kent who had lately moved to Ohio. He was on his way at last to the land where he hoped to make his dream come true. Did he miss the sisterly care, the cool water from the little spring west of the house, and the younger brother’s admiration in the days following his leaving? Who can say? The break was made, and if he was sorry, he was too inarticulate as regards his deepest feelings to have confessed it.
The Dream Comes True
Ten years of dreaming and saving! He was actually on his way at last. With his hoarded four hundred dollars hidden carefully in his clothes, he started in company with the Garwards, his neighbors., for Farley, Iowa in the summer of 1853. The fact that he could come on the freight train and tend stock, in lieu of paying railroad fare, may have influenced him to come to Farley.
On reaching Farley, William heard of land westward which was still open composed of Mexican War Grants to soldiers in 1848. When the soldiers did not come to settle on their lands, the land was once more open to purchase. Setting out on foot, William observed three men who seemed suspicious characters to him. They followed him closely. He thought of his money. That four hundred dollars was his all. Lose the fruits of ten years in ten minutes! Not if he knew it and his legs would carry him.
Hurrying over a hill, he ran at top speed for a brief time. Seeing a log some distance from the roadside he hid behind it. He remained unobserved as the men, loudly discussing plans for his capture, passed by. He stayed in hiding until they were well out of his way.
In 1853 the railroad had reached as far as Earlville. This may have influenced William’s route from Farley westward. Reaching Elk township, he saw in the distance a surveyor’s nag and decided to walk toward it. When he reached the knoll, he looked about him, and subconsciously sensing the possibility of the prairie land before he resolved silently that this should be his home. The location of this flag is the present northwest corner of the farm. How did he know this land was still open to settlement? He must have supplied himself with a surveyor’s plat before leaving Dubuque. Anyone who knew his careful, business-like methods, could hardly feature his hastening back to Dubuque to prove up on land which might already be preempted.
Back in Dubuque, he exchanged his four hundred dollars of wildcat money for government money at an exchange rate of about four dollars per hundred. Considering the amount of his capital, he invested heavily. He felt confident, however, that he could earn his own way if necessity arose.
The question of how much land was entered August 15, 1853, has been a much mooted one in the family. It appears that the best evidence may be found in the tax receipts for 1854. In that year William paid $4.82 in truces on the following land located in township 90; S.E. ¼ of S.W. ¼ of Se. 10 (40 acres); N.W. ¼ of N. W. ¼ of Sec. 31 (40 acres); N.W. ½ of the S.W. ½ of Sec. 3O (one hundred and sixty acres). The land in Section 10 was a timbered 40 situated on Elk Greek and was to play an important part in up building the farm home and buildings.
The story is told as to how William reached Dubuque just in time to enter the land, before Mr. Burbridge who later became his neighbor, arrived anxious to acquire the same land. Mr. Burbridge had to be satisfied with adjoining land rather than the desired land.
Leaving Dubuque William returned to the Garwards at Farley. He had his land, and he was hopeful of the future, but he was beginning to see the need for further capital to convert the land into a home. He had no house— no barn- no stock, no machinery—nothing but his bare hands– and he was twenty-six years old. One wonders if his heart failed him that fall as he husked corn for the Garwards at $1.00 a day. Should he stay here and try to earn the needed money or try to return to Pennsylvania? A letter from his father decided the matter. Thomas Sr. had had a poor year, and he was ill. He needed William to help him browse his cattle through the winter. For the last time, William allowed his father’s needs to take precedence over his own. Back he went to Pennsylvania, stopping off at Hiram Kent’s on the way.
Little is known of his three years stay in Pennsylvania. Had he a sweet-heart there? In later years Thomas Ellis Jr. was wont to chaff William good-naturedly on the subject, but nothing of the real facts seem to be known. No doubt William worked hard and saved every penny he could get. Times were hard. We do note that he paid his taxes regularly during his years of absence.
William returned to Iowa in 1856, and never returned to his old home again. Even though he had hated the drudgery there, he was always homesick and wanted to go back to visit, but lack of money and his increased responsibilities prevented his return during the earlier years after he settled here. By the time he could have afforded a visit to the old scenes, the members of his family had either died or had left the old home. His sisters, Ann and Rosetta, he never saw again.
He must have worked his way to Iowa a second time for he told of catching his boot-heel in the ladder of the freight car of the moving train and almost losing his balance. With no home or house-keeper, young Ellis went to board with a family northeast of the Greeley of today, but what was then the newly platted town of Plum Spring. This was the awful winter of 1856-7 when the snow lay four feet deep on the level. Short of funds, William determined to make some money by burning charcoal in the forty acres of timber land on Elk. A deep hole would be dug and covered with green poles teepee fashion. This in turn was covered with dirt. The wood to be burned into charcoal was burned under earth so that it would burn slowly. William often had to tramp the dirt down to keep it burning as it should. In one instance he broke through the earth into the fire, and had he not been able to jump to safety with the aid of the long pole which he carried, he would no doubt have burned to death.
(To be continued) – (possible missing pages)
Everyone was poor, but some people knew how to prepare the only available foodstuffs better than others. During the winter when William boarded with the family northeast of Greeley, he subsisted on the greasy cooking put before him. It frequently sickened him, accustomed as he was to Jerusha’s carefully prepared meals, and even the maiden ladies for whom he worked had usually boiled, not fried the food. He was told that tobacco chewing would aid in helping him to overcome his revulsion for the poorly prepared food. He learned to chew tobacco. He disapproved of the habit but was never able to give it up. He once said to the writer, “It’s an expensive habit, but I’m too old to break it now.”
During the winter William entered into the social life of the pioneer community. He was tall, straight and neatly dressed. He may have felt some pride in his personal appearance. He was wont to grin sardonically in later years when he told how he overheard someone say of him when he was in attendance at a Christian Church service in Plum Spring, “Don’t he think he’s smart?”
Mrs. Lucretia Seargeant, an old settler, told in later years, how he took her to a party and started to help her out of the sled and half knocked her bonnet off. Lucretia was near-sighted and over-estimated her leap, but William got the blame, and Lucretia was offended for some time to come.
At one of the sleigh-riding or coasting parties, in which William in common with the other young people of Plum Spring participated, William met Cordelia Walton. He may have met her in the late fall of 1856. He married her in 1857. Just past 17, the brown curly-haired Cordelia was really named Sarah Cordelia and was the daughter of Persons and Prudence Walton and was born in Ohio in 1839. Old settlers often remarked that she was “one of the prettiest girls of her time.” Mrs. Lucy Armstrong, a school-mate of Cordelia’s younger sisters, and later a neighbor of the Ellis family, told the writer that she remembered Cordelia well. Said Mrs. Armstrong, “She was a very pretty girl, was very lively and was not so serious as her sisters Emma and Eliza.”
William had indicated his preference for Cordelia before he was in any financial position to marry her. Evidently, Cordelia’s family did not think they should wait until a house was built. So, William and Cordelia were married and lived with Cordelia’s family in Plum Spring until a house was built. After his marriage in 1857, he became really serious about making provision for a separate house for himself and his wife. Here his skill with the ax stood him in good stead, for he hewed the timbers and cut the shingles for the new home with his own hands. Of course, not all of this was completed at once. Crops had to be planted. William broke the sod for his first, crops with oxen during the spring of 1857. He trained the oxen himself.
In the early fall after William and Cordelia were married, they were attending services in the Christian Church at Plum Spring, when a red-headed youth burst in upon the church service screaming “Prairie-fire.” Looking westward the fire could be seen in the distance. “My hay and grain were all stacked,” said William in telling the story, “and I knew that if those burned, that my summer’s work was all for nothing. Leaving Cordelia to follow as best she might, I ran across the fields for the farm. The oxen were in the yard; the plow was handy; the grass was not too high, and I managed to break two furrows before the rapidly advancing fire reached the barrier. I saved my crop.”
Late in 1857 or early in 1858, the Ellis’ house was sufficiently completed so that they moved to their home farm. His dream had come true. William had a home, a beloved wife, who was a born homemaker, and the future appeared promising despite the poverty/and hard times which they in common with the early settlers were undergoing.
Clinging to the Dream
In the thirteen years following., William B. Ellis must often have thought regretfully of the hardships of the preceding thirteen years and counted them as naught in the face of what was to come. To acquire is difficult, but to acquire and lose–that is harder still. And that threat must always have stalked the background of his consciousness during the years of war and crop failures of the 1860s and the early 1870s.
The results of the panic of 1857 finally affected Iowa. Money was harder than ever to get. The Republican party was coming into its own in Iowa. William adopted the principles of this party and remained its staunch supporter until his death.
During those early years, the Ellis family could hardly pay their taxes. Sometime between 1854 and 1860 William had acquired more land until he had four hundred and forty acres. Subsequently, he sold some of it; possibly he felt he could not farm that much by himself. Then too much of the government land down toward Oneida was still unclaimed and was open for grazing. He continued to use this land, as did his neighbors, until about 1870. The writer’s mother had often mentioned how her step-mother rode a horse and brought in the stock from the open lands when night was coming.
Sensitive, nervous, cautious and persistent, William had just turned thirty when he was married. The hard times through which he had passed, appear to have troubled him less than those which he encountered during the early years of his life on his newly acquired farm. There were two reasons for this: first was a deep-seated tendency to take responsibility hard. The second was a tendency to drive himself to the breaking point before he would give in and rest- and then his self-control would be gone.
His responsibilities did increase rapidly. Within the first year of his marriage his first child, Isabelle, was born. Fifteen months later, Cora arrived; in 1861, Mary, and in 1863, Rose (short for Rosetta). More mouths to feed– and no money.
The farm was too large for one man to work alone… Hiring help was very expensive, and as the Civil war calls for men increased, hiring was almost an impossibility. Oxen were slow. A team must be bought. No fences– no barns worth mentioning for the first few years. And the land– it lay there waiting…waiting. It was virgin sod, and he knew it would produce a fruitful harvest if he could manage to cultivate it. It must have seemed to mock him. It drove him to toil every hour of daylight, and often by moonlight, and yet he could not encompass the task he had set himself.
Was the call of that land so strong that not only did it seem to mock him, but to drive him? Did he begrudge the money that had to go for purposes other than farm development? Did his high-strung nature grow restive under the slow disheartening process? If not that, something else must have been the cause of the gradual change in the proud young man who could dance his feet off at the Pennsylvania daces but three years before.
Ambitious for the development of his home, he associated in his own mind his beautiful wife with him as an integral part of the enterprise. Accustomed to sisters who refused to take him too seriously, he failed to appreciate how difficult were the demands he often made on a young woman just turned eighteen. Not given to complaint, suffering hurt in silence, the young mother bravely struggled to do her part. She kept house as best she could with what she had. To shade the barren little cabin, she planted a willow and a cottonwood.
Her responsibilities were those of the usual pioneer woman. No one pitied them. Probably Cordelia was too busy to give the matter any thought herself. The story is that in one of the lean years, they dug up the seed potatoes after they had started to grow and ate them. Believe it or not, that is one of the family tales.
It is undoubtedly true that by 1859, the Ellis family was almost destitute of clothing. A team of horses had been bought and no doubt every extra penny went toward paying for them. However, the wheat was finally harvested, stacked and ready to thresh. There would be some money as soon as it was marketed. William had only his hickory shirt left; his trousers were patches on patches; Cordelia had only the lining of her dress (they lined them in those days) and her petticoat.
With the threshers arriving soon, William thought that he would get credit for a short time until he could sell some wheat. He walked to Plum Spring (now Greeley) and asked a store-keeper to sell him calico for a dress and denim for trousers on credit until he could get his wheat threshed. He was refused. Stung by the rebuff, William turned on his heel, and without going home took off for Earlville across country. On presenting his case to the storekeeper there, he was accorded credit, and returned with the necessary material.
And now war began. Hired help was two dollars a day. Crops couldn’t be harvested alone. The winter of 1860, William trapped prairie chickens to eke out the food. The hungry wolves were often heard howling in the distance.
Because William was proud, not many people realized how bad his hearing really was. Often times he did not catch all the words, and he refused to ask people to repeat, and simply went on his way misunderstanding what people had said. This made enemies for him and made him dislike people whose remarks he had not clearly heard. Now he was drafted for service and had to go before the Draft Board to be examined. His hearing was too bad to pass him. Once he told the writer that he really never understood much of what what was said to him on that occasion except that he was sure he heard the recruiting official say very clearly “You are excused.” “But,” he added, “maybe I was so anxious to hear it, that I just thought I did.” He never denied that he was glad that he did not have to go to war. He paid his substitute as was required by law and went his way.
Bad news from the old home came. Ann, his sister, was dying. She would like to see him once more. Could he come? He knew it was impossible. His “No” sent in reply was brief, almost curt. Jerusha, who had given up her teaching career to marry a widower, J. H. Peck, added to the care of her home and Mr. Peck’s children, the duties of caring for Ann. Neither she nor Thomas Sr. could understand William’s refusal until sometime later.
But because he could not go to Ann did not mean that she was absent from his thoughts. Wakening one morning, he sadly told Cordelia that Ann was dead. A letter received a week later, showed him to have been correct. He sincerely believed that one “knew” such things, but he could furnish no explanation.
And now Thomas Ellis Sr. had no one to keep his house. Jerusha’s husband was moving to Iowa. Thomas Jr. was unmarried. In a letter which Thomas Sr. wrote to William about this time, he states frankly that he had suggested to Thomas Jr. that it was time for him to get a wife to keep the house. He makes no secret of the fact that he had offered Thomas Jr. a certain share of crops and household goods if he would marry a comely hired girl. Thomas Jr. refused. So, Thomas Sr. decided to visit his son in Iowa. He approved of his new daughter-in-law but considered that his son had deteriorated. He suggested that he begin William’s reform by taking away the chewing tobacco. William was trying to break some sod with the oxen. For some reason, William became very ill without the weed. His father found him lying in the furrow in a cold sweat. This was William’s last serious attempt to give up the habit.
The house was small. The occasional visits of Cordelia’s brothers and sisters, and the visit of William’s father, added to the increasing family crowded everyone. By this time Thomas Sr. had decided he wanted to live with William. “William,” he said one day, “I want to come here to spend my last days, but the house is too small. I will lend you $200 to build a new house. When it is finished, I will come to live with you”. This was in 1862. William agreed. Thomas Sr. returned to his home in Pennsylvania.
So was built the house which all the children and most of the grandchildren now recall as “the old house.” It contained two bedrooms, a pantry, a large living room with a curtained bedroom alcove off the living room. Underneath was a cellar with a deeply sanded floor. One reached the cellar by way of the west back porch which was really almost another room and had a small kitchen at the north end of the room. The entrance to the basement was at the south end of this porch. The steps were huge pieces of rock which made risers about 18 inches high.
The war dragged on. Proud as ever, William struggled to pay his share toward hiring his substitute. Because he was poor and could hardly afford to pay the wages for extra help, he compromised by hiring outside help only in harvest. With the new house completed, and the old one (the cabin) removed to a short distance away, Cordelia’s family moved into the cabin for a time. Her father, Persons Walton, was a carpenter by trade. It may be that he came to help in building the new house. Her mother, Prudence Hodges was a widow with three children—Mary, Frank, and Catherine – when she married Mr. Walton. There were five of the Walton children– Cordelia, Eliza, (later Mrs. Samuel Sullivan), Emma, (later Mrs. James Joslin of Anamosa, Iowa), Theodore and John.
The Waltons and William could not agree. The family resented his treatment of the pretty Cordelia. To William’s way of thinking the Waltons with their family affection were a bit “do-less.” Even though he respected them highly as people, he felt that their ways were not his ways, so he finally asked them to move. They rented a farm in Coffins Grove township, northwest of Manchester. There they farmed, and Mr. Walton did carpentry for his neighbors. Whether Cordelia had a voice in the decision to ask her parents to leave, no one knows.
On August 15, 1864, Thomas Ellis Sr. returned. When William met him, Thomas Sr. said, “William, I’ve come to die.” He spoke truly, and in three days he was gone. He was 78 years old, having been born April 6, 1786. William bought a lot in the new cemetery in Plum Spring and buried his father there. The money for his burial and tombstone had to be raised– no easy matter at that time of the year.
Worried as he was, harassed by cares, chafed by his ambition to do more to the land, he became a bit more careless of other people’s opinions– a bit more morose. Jerusha and Thomas Jr. felt that William should have sent his father’s body back to Linesville to be buried beside their mother in the Frye Cemetery. They failed to see that William lived fifteen miles from a railroad, that he could not take the time to take the body back, and even if he could, he had not the money to pay for the trip.
And now the war was over– almost. Taxes had been unpaid in some years, but now William felt that he could get a new grip on things. He used the cabin to house the occasional help that he hired. His oldest child was now seven; his youngest was fifteen months. Another was expected.
Every pioneer woman underwent hardships; childbearing was only one of the many things expected of her. But Cordelia had had too many children, too soon. In August of 1865, a neighbor offered Cordelia some currants if she would pick them. Quick to avail herself of the offer, she worked under the hot sun too long, considering the fact that she was pregnant. She had a sunstroke with a resulting miscarriage. Help in the house was hard to get. William tried to leave more of the outdoors work to the hired man and to help in the house. He left Cordelia in bed while he went on a necessary errand. The four little girls, aged 7, 5, 4 and 1, went to the cabin and dragged out the hired man’s shirts and other clothes. Coming in, he found them arrayed in his choice red shirts. In his anger, he hurried into the house, went to Cordelia’s open bedroom door and spoke sharply to her, threatening to punish the offenders. The resulting excitement caused her to get out of bed. Once more she started to hemorrhage; it soon became evident that she would die.
William never described his feeling as to the loss of his wife. Cordelia had asked him that she not be buried in Plum Spring, where the people had been cool toward her. She wanted to be buried in Manchester. William acceded and bought a lot there. His sister Jerusha, who at that time lived in Monroe, Iowa came in answer to his telegram. His wife’s family came. Years afterwards, his Great-Aunt Jerusha said that he seemed like a man who was stunned.
Studying the character of the man from then on, it appears that his wife’s death marked a crisis in his life, just as his mother’s had years before. He had secretly cherished two loves since he came to Iowa-his wife and his dream of a home. The wife was gone. Only his dream remained, but by some bitter twist of circumstances, his dream of a home now merges more and more into a driving desire to become a rich man. The urge was not so strong in the earlier years– the ties of fatherhood are uppermost, but the urge is there, and more and more his life becomes a struggle between his desires to build a home of worth for his family– on his land and his wish to use the land and his family as a means to accumulate wealth.
The funeral was over. They drove to the station to take Jerusha to the train so that she could return to her family. Grandmother Walton took the baby Rosetta and four-year-old Mary with her to the Walton home in Coffins Grove. The rebellious Isabelle and the curly haired Cora were left in the care of William and such help as he could hire. William’s relations with his neighbors complicated that matter. He had had church differences with them ever since his arrival. He had been reared as a Universalist, and though he was not averse to attending the Campbellite church, yet he refused to join. The neighbors, no doubt believed as people of strong religious convictions are prone to do, in the 1860’s, that this proved he was ungodly. They refused to sell him corn for his oxen in 1860; they distinctly refused to be neighborly. William’s deafness, of which many neighbors were unaware aggravated the matter.
“Work for a young widower? Your character would be ruined”. So spoke the gossips to the young women whom William approached to hire their services. So as a pacifier to Madam Grundy, he hired two. They proved to be wasteful, lazy and unkind to the children, their cooking left much to be desired. They were constantly trying to decide who would do what. In disgust, William dismissed them. During the winter months of 1865-1866, William cared for the two girls and himself. He told of molding biscuits on the table and throwing them at the pan on the stove. He was a bit proud of the aim he developed.
Winter passed. Sometime in the winter, he went down to Waltons on horseback. He carried as many provisions with him as he could; he did not want to have the Waltons care for the children for nothing. In after years, many people spoke of Rosetta as “being the image of her mother.” Whether that was true or not, William could seldom deny her anything– anyway she was the baby. Rosetta cried to go home with him, and he took her in spite of her grandmother’s pleas. Thus, he saddled himself with the care of an extra child for the winter. Seven-year-old Belle loved the baby and was a great help with her.
Spring came and then summer. Cordelia had been dead for a year. His grief may have been numbed by hard work, or possibly he was just exasperated with the cares of raising three young daughters. So, he tried hiring a family who lived in the cabin, and who kept his house for him; they cooked the meals for the help he hired during harvest, and he did hire extra help.
Among those who came to work in the harvest fields was a young widow with her five-year-old son, Abe. She worked in the field for one reason–she needed the money. Thus, did William meet Julia Ann Charles Evans, who became his second wife. It appears to have been a marriage of convenience, for she had three children, and he had four, and it was without any pretenses of affection on either side.
Julia Charles had married a widower with three children, Martha Jane, George and William Evans. To Julia and Mr. Evans were born three more children– Susan Ann, Phoebe C., and Abraham L. Mr. Evans died when Abe was three, but he left his widow around 120 acres of land in Clayton County. She owned in trust for all the children the S½ of SW ½ of Sec. 22 twp. 91 range 4—80 acres, and the SW¼ of the SE ½ of Sec. 22 range 4– 40 acres. This land was mostly timber.
At the time that Julia married William she had” bound out” one of her girls and had left the other with relatives. Mary had remained with her grandparents and had started to school. Learning from William that he intended to remarry, she taught Mary to call Julia “Mother.” Both Mr. and Mrs. Walton assured William that they approved of his remarriage. However, they wanted to keep Mary, who loved them both especially her Grandfather Persons. He gave her the first penny she ever had for helping him pick up potatoes. Mary’s Aunt Eliza was still a young girl, but she became Mary’s dearest Aunt and was always her refuge in any trouble, so it was a great grief to her to learn that she must go home now that she had a “new mother.” When Mary called Julia “Mother,” Julia cried. Belle had already begun her campaign to make Julia miserable.