Before moving on…

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Log Cabin, Rice County Historical Center

… to the woods and the prairie of Winnesheik (Chapter VII), Hamlin recollects, his school days in Wisconsin.  Instead of attending the village school, he and his siblings joined a few others at the home of John Roche.  He recalls John’s daughter, Indiana, (a very cool name) whom they called Ingie.

The selection of books at Hamlin’s home struck me.  There were none, except the Bible, Mother Goose and a few newspapers laying around.  This reminded me of a story of my own great, great, great Grandpa, Adam Bryan, also a pioneer of Wisconsin in the 1840’s or ’50’s. Adam, brought his family first to Illinois, from Pennsylvania, and shortly after decided to settle at Jug Creek, or Bad Axe, (a bastardization of an American Indian word), which most unfortunately was changed to Vernon County, after the home of the immortal hero, George Washington.  Too bad, for Bad Axe! Well, I am proud to say Gramps was the first pioneer of this area carving out the land with ox and cart, to build a cabin for his family, soon to arrive. Like Hamlin, it is said that Gramps learned to read from the only book he had, which was the Bible.

The Garlands faired a little better than my Grandpa’s family and acquired two books especially good for the imagination. These were Beauty and Beast, and Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp. Nothing like a fairy tale to stimulate creativity.

In continuation, the Garlands move on. Hamlin recalls the reluctant spirit of his mom, Belle, as she packs all their things and gets ready for a three day treck across the February tundra land of Wisconsin.  First they cross the bridge at Lacrosse, go through La Crescent, stay in Hokah, pass through Caledonia, and arrive to their farm about 2 miles from the town of Hesper.  There is a kind Quaker man there, waiting for them to take over the property. As they settle in they find that their little shack doesn’t quite meet up to the standards of their cabin, back in Wisconsin. They make due, but not without hardship.

First their house girl (I found this addition to the family interesting) contracts smallpox from the limited English speaking Norwegians that Hamlin’s dad hires for construction help. She survives, but Hamlin’s father also gets smallpox. It lasts quite awhile, but he also lives. This invasion in the household is worrisome to Belle because none of the children are vaccinated.  They eventually get this done, and the Garlands are spared of the wicked illness spreading in the family.

It must be around the 1870’s when another small creature is added to the brood consisting of Hamlin, his brother Frank, and sister Hannah.  Mother Belle has a baby!

Hamlin gets accustomed to his new home, and school, which is highly populated by Norwegians, or Norskies, who fight with the so called Yankees, like Hamlin.  Hamlin has nothing against his new classmates, but is obliged to do what is necessary to protect himself, using the path of least resistance.

The author grows to love;

‘The colorful and sweet woodland farm, the warm sun on radiant slopes of grass; the meadow phlox and tall tiger lilies, blackberry thickets, odorous grapevines, cherry trees, and delicious nuts that grew in the forest in the north.  

The wilderness of the forest was an endless and solemn playground.  They thought they would spend all their years in their beautiful home and see many more seasons, where the wood and the prairie of their song did actually meet and mingle;’

But, alas, little did they know, father had something else in mind.  They would have to move again!’

Last Threshing in the Coulee

Hamlin looks back with appreciation for the life they led in the Coulee.  The hard work was never drudgery for him as he enjoyed being witness and participating in the shared camaraderie with his cousins, uncles, father, and mother.  They all worked for the common good.

He was old enough however to understand that his father was no longer interested in staying on this Wisconsin farm, that he was going to sell out, and move further West. Hamlin was emotionally devastated and feared the impact this uprootedness would have on his mother, and subsequently on him, for when his mother was unhappy, so was he.

Hamlin intuitively understands the change a move away from family can have on the female spirit, and expresses it in this way with regards to his mother.

I fear it did not solace my mother as she contemplated the loss of home and kindred.  She was not by nature an emigrant, – few women are…most of her brothers and sisters still lived just across the ridge in the valley of the Neshonoc, and the thought of leaving them for a wild and unknown region was not pleasant.

To my father, on the contrary, change was alluring. Iowa was now the place of the rainbow and the pot of gold.

The family would enjoy one more threshing and one more Thanksgiving, but by the first of the year, father said he would be off searching for new land.

As if writing his memoir, Hamlin lamentably looks back in time:

Oh those blessed days, those entrancing nights!  How fine they were then, and how mellow they are now, for the slow-paced years have dropped nearly fifty other golden mists upon that far-off valley. From this distance I cannot understand how my father brought himself to leave that lovely farm and those good and noble friends.

There seemed to be no way the family could sway Hamlin’s father differently.  The only choice was to look forward to a new life on the Prairie.

From A Son of Middle Border

By Hamlin Garland