My great great grandfather, Allen Spencer and my great great grandmother, Lydia Quackenbush Potts Spencer were married on February 22, 1850 in Canastota, New York. It didn’t take them too many years to decide that New York was not where they wanted to be. So, in the spring of 1855, after the birth of their second child, Ida, who was born June 11, 1854, they packed up their belongings and their two children, and headed west. They had their hearts set on Iowa. It would be a long journey, traveling on dirt roads, camping underneath the stars, cooking over a campfire, and often going for days without seeing other people. They would have had to cross rivers with no bridges, traveling for miles sometimes before finding a place where it was safe to take the covered wagon across. Then traveling back to where they had been before. They would have most likely crossed the Mississippi at Prairie Du Chien, which was the only place north of Saint Louis to have a ferry at that time. I imagine that it seemed very odd to be around what seemed like so many people again. Then, probably after a few days, they set off again for their dream home…Iowa. It is unsure if they arrived in Iowa in 1855, or if they wintered in Prairie Du Chien before going on in the spring of 1856, but apparently Iowa was not quite what they expected, because it was not long before the family would again move…this time to Wisconsin. My great grandfather, William was born in Iowa on August 27, 1857, but by the time their next child, Luther was born on May 18, 1858, the family was living in Wisconsin.
Having driven through Iowa recently, I can say that it is pretty flat, and at least to me, not very interesting. I suppose it was a matter of what you were looking for. Farming country wasn’t exactly what this city girl had in mind for life, which is probably why I chose to stay in Wyoming…country enough to be small and city enough to have things to do. Still, Iowa does appeal to a lot of people and in the end, it must have appealed to my great great grandparents again, because Webster City, Iowa would be where my great great grandfather, Allen Spencer would pass away, and where he is buried. My great great grandmother, Lydia Quackenbush Potts Spencer would again move on, this time to Fay, Oklahoma, where her sons lived and would pass away there twenty three years after the passing of her husband, Allen Spencer, and after seeing her many grandchildren.
I don’t know if they found the winters in Wisconsin too harsh, the growing season too short, or exactly what drew them back to Iowa, but I guess it was their dream in the beginning and their dream in the end…or at least until Allen’s death. Then maybe Lydia could no longer bear to stay, or maybe she only left because of her sons. I’ll probably never know for sure, but I can relate to being near family…especially after a loss, so that is my guess as to what my great great grandmother would have wanted.
There are many ways for a family to be spread across the country. Most times, these days anyway, it is a choice to move to a different place or climate, but other times, people move for work or education. People used to leave family and friends to head out west to search for gold or to get a piece of land that they could homestead on. But, sometimes the reasons a family gets spread all over the country are very different, and much more sad.
My great grandfather’s family traveled by covered wagon to Wisconsin in 1879. The rest of the family lived in Iowa, so it is my assumption that my great grandfather and his wife, my great grandmother moved in the months following their marriage. My grandfather was actually born in that covered wagon, in Eu Clair, Wisconsin. That said, he was already out of the home when the moves of the rest of his family took place.
My great great grandfather passed away in Webster City, Iowa on January 13, 1883, at the young age of 56 years. His loss would be devastating to the family. As often happened in those years, with the loss of the bread winner, the children had to be farmed out to the relatives. Such was the case in my great great grandmother’s family. Her family would never be the same. Her oldest daughter, Ida, who was also married and wasliving in Washington state, took her younger brother, Allen to live with her family. Her daughter Teressa went to live in Rushville, Nebraska. She and her sons, Luther and Cornealius went to live in Oklahoma.
With travel being more difficult, I don’t know if my great great grandmother ever saw some of her kids again, and if she did, I’m sure it was not often. She would live out her life in Oklahoma, with her son Luther and his family, and would live to the good old age of 75, on April 6, 1906. While her life was long, especially for that time period, I still have to wonder if it was also filled with a great degree of sadness and loneliness since so many of her children lived so far away. Because women didn’t have the ability to make enough money to properly raise a family in those days, they had little choice but to depend on the charity of family members to make it. These days are different, of course, and many women have been single moms and fared very well. Still, I think it took a great amount of courage to send her children to live with family, not knowing how they would do in life. I’m sure it took a great deal of worry too.