Married or Single?
In Married or Single? author Catherine Sedgwick hopes to convince society that the single life is noble, eventful, and fulfilling. Out with the stereotyped ‘Old Maid,’ and in with the unmarried, but well-educated and socially active woman. The story reads like a 1960s soap opera, but without the action. However, I don’t say this as a criticism, I think she intended her novel to be an analysis of relationships and of introspection. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of well-turned phrases packed with meaning. It’s a treasure trove of Victorian idioms, sayings, and vocabulary. It also describes in detail, though sometimes in passing, Victorian attitudes, behavior, and ways. For those interested in writing historical fiction, with America of the 1850s as a setting, Married or Single?, published in 1857, is as helpful as any reference book.
The story follows the life of Grace Herbert, a pretty and sensible young woman of integrity who is sought after by two principle suitors: Archibald (Archy) Lisle, a conscientious lawyer, and another attorney, the dapper and scheming Horace Copley.
Grace’s sister Eleanor lives a blissful married life, though stricken with tragedy when her little boy dies. Later in the story, an acquaintance of Grace’s, the attractive Mrs. Tallis, also loses her young daughter. Both women will learn from the hard but providential lessons that come with the loss of a loved one, and the reader understands that though with marriage comes the fulfilling vocation of motherhood, so comes heartbreak as well.
Death also visits the young and beautiful Letty, who, as a child, was taken care of by Archibald Lisle, whose good deeds seem to follow him wherever. Letty’s death also turns out to be a blessing, because she had been dishonored by Horace Copely. Now, she won’t have to live with her shame. Also, she’ll be spared another heartache: she had deep feelings for her benefactor, Archy, but his heart was destined for another.
One of Archy’s many good deeds is to save a childhood friend, Max, from prison, which very much pleases Max’s sister, Alice, who had asked for Archy’s help in the matter.
Meanwhile, the devious Horace Copely, who constantly seeks out Grace’s attention, finally amuses Grace well enough one evening to pop the marital question to her. Taken in by the ambiance of the night, Grace accepts. Afterwards, she’s ill at ease with her decision, and her good-natured Uncle Walter, a man of common sense and possessed with an ability to understand the true nature of men and women, discreetly bemoans her choice.
Uncle Walter’s sister-in-law and widow, Grace’s stepmother, had hoped Horace Copely would have chosen her worldly and spoiled daughter Anne Carlton as a bride. (One cannot but think of Cinderella, with Grace, of course, as Cinderella, Mrs. Herbert as the evil stepmother, and Ann as both stepsisters rolled into one.) Mrs. Herbert and her daughter are disappointed, but the scheming widow proves to be the consummate actress. Even though she doesn’t show her hand, the insightful and patient Grace knows what cards she’s playing.
When Mrs. Tallis’s daughter died, Grace comforted the grieving mother, and while confiding in Grace, Mrs. Tallis realizes God has taught her an important lesson, that she ought to be more attentive and loving toward her husband whom she has disregarded. If she doesn’t change her ways, her daughter, who loved both father and mother equally, will have died in vain.
This leads Mrs. Tallis to reject the amorous advances of Horace Copely, who has pursued her with gifts. When Grace discovers this, she breaks off with Horace Copely, and goes to spend three weeks with Max, Alice, and their mother in the idyllic (pre-industrial) small town of Mapleton. While there, Archy Lisle shows up, as Mapleton is his childhood home. The mother envisions Archy marrying Alice, and Archy does propose to the daughter, but Alice has another man in mind. Once Archy realizes Alice has a suitor and that Grace has broken off with Horace Copely, he can freely court Grace, the real love of his life.
Though Grace, who at one point decided upon the single life, will no doubt marry Archy, she could have had a fulfilling life, with friends for family and a host of purposeful good works to accomplish, while remaining single. And that’s the lesson of the novel.
Here are a few quotable quotes in Married or Single?, though not all may be of Catharine Sedgewick’s invention:
The richer men are, the more they covet.
Instinct is a divine inspiration—reason only a human ingenuity.
Our country is progressive. One should not look to antecedents.
The cravings for intimacy and affection are not dulled, but made more intense by a reserved nature.
If you want to spread news, tell it to one woman, and you give it wings.
To love and be loved is pretty much all there is to live for.
You should not indulge anxiety; you are a professing Christian.
[The intensity of her nature] is like fire: if the best servant, the cruelest master.
They were both too well-bred, but they had no sympathy, and therefore no reciprocal happiness.
She never conferred a benefit without the particulars of its cost.
There are certain observances that a young lady...can not omit without remark.
[In marriage] though two make one for themselves, they make two for the rest of us.
The desire of conquest is stimulated by its uncertainty.
[Some] mistake impulses for inspirations.
One’s own convenience is lead in one scale, and one’s neighbor’s a feather in the other.
It is the sudden fortunes that come upon people unprepared for them, by education or association, that vulgarize our society.
Those are said to be the happiest days of our lives of which there is least to record.
[Who counts] the three times gathering round the table, where mind and heart, as well as body, find their food?
As slaves must be trained for freedom, so women must be educated for usefulness, independence, and contentment in single life.
Sorrow has made me early wise.
 For whites, life expectancy was 39.5 years in the 1850s, while infant mortality was 216/1000 (vs 5.7/1000 today). https://eh.net/encyclopedia/fertility-and-mortality-in-the-united-states/ Accessed 4/13/2019. One-third of children born alive in the United States in the 1850s died before their fifth birthday. https://ourworldindata.org/child-mortality Accessed 4.13.2019.
Well, I've been absent for a month or two, but not without cause. Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but several people, including a woman, have been blocking my attempt to write. That woman is Mother Nature, or more precisely her daughter, Miss Winter. I've spent my days arguing with her from the seat of my John Deere tractor, "blading" snow for a mile or two once a week, which is also part of the joys of living out in the country. The view is great, but rather monochrome.
My wife certainly doesn't complain, as she was praying for a white Christmas. I would have discouraged her if I had known that the word "days" was a euphemism for "weeks," at least it is in the so-called Twelve Days of Christmas. The other joy of living in the country in the midst of timbered lands, is that one must possess a wood stove. It creates great warmth, and with a glass front you can watch flames undulate when the power goes out and watching TV suddenly becomes boring.
The downside is that a wood stove takes fuel. Trekking out in the snow, mumbling like we did last year and the year before that and so on, "Next time we're going to build up a woodpile before Miss Winter shows up," we shift around snow covered tree carcasses, then cut off their limbs without mercy, and finally lumber back to the pick-up to dispose of them.
That's phase one, and the wood has, as they say, already served its purpose of warming us up once. Phase two is chopping, three is stacking, and four is burning. It's so efficient and renewable, warming us up as it does, time and again.
And then there are classes to attend to. That has taken up time, as well it should, but if I didn't live 70 icy miles from work, it would take up less time. And History Day, as I pointed out on page one, does take preparation, but the product is satisfactory. To see high and middle schoolers put together websites better than this one is amazing, and aggravating.
I must admit as well that I did get distracted by books. I'm not a fast reader, but I make up for my slowness by reading several books at once, usually four. Well, actually five but I can't remember what the fifth one is. There's a mystery on Napoleon III, which is in French. There's Married or Single?, an 1857 soap opera novel. There's a Wodehouse one. Can't remember the title, but it's the one where Berty is in trouble with Spode. It's a reread, which doesn't quite explain why I can't remember the title. Anyway, there's that other one I can't remember, and then there's a western I'm reading by Johnson or Johnstone. But I only read it when I'm delivering grain, and my grain truck has been broken down since early January.
If my truck hadn't been made in Brazil my mechanic would have found a part for it. Apparently he did find someone to build the part, but Miss Winter forbids him to approach the truck, and I'm feeling my Brazilian is fairly vulnerable, sitting out in the open, as she is, in a Nebraskan cornfield and surrounded by snow.
But back to books: There is also Eusebius, another reread. But since I read him some twenty years ago, I count it as a first read. Fascinating church history, if it's permitted to put "fascinating" and "church history" in the same sentence together. I did also read Theophanes, Evagrius, and Priscus during the last two months.
I found the most interesting passage when reading these Byzantine histories. It was mentioned that there was a land across the sea with vast forests, where the women and men labored side-by-side, and the women would hang their babies on a tree branch while they worked. I said, "Oh, that's interesting," because I suddenly remembered something. Unfortunately it wasn't the title of that book I'm reading, but something just as important: Native American mothers, unlike European mothers of the day, put their infants on a cradle board, which they would hang in a tree in order to work. As Native American women would do the heavy gardening whilst their men folk smoked tobacco and pondered their next hunting expedition, it would seem to a European that Indian wives did men's work, since European men typically tilled the soil. "Vast forests," I thought. "A mysterious land across the sea," I thought. It couldn't be Britain, because Britain was known, and it couldn't be Iceland because a tree knew better than to send down roots in such a cold and windswept place. Could this be America of which the author spoke? I needed to review the passage again. That's when I discovered something very interesting, and it wasn't that book title. No, I discovered that I couldn't remember if the passage was in Theophanes, Evagrius, or Priscus. At 4AM in the morning, I still didn't know, though I had looked over each page of each book. Maybe it was in Eusebius. If ever you find that passage, and the title of that elusive book, please let me know, so I can get on with preparing my next novel, "Saved by the Bullet."
I’ve begun looking for events for the summer of 1857 to include in my follow-up novel to Life in a Casket. This has brought me to the pages of the Nebraska News, published in Nebraska City, which settlement was, apparently, in competition with nearby Kearney City, along the Missouri, and South Nebraska City.
In the paper, the elders of Kearney City, where 30 large oxen and 15 milch cows were for sale at low rates, warned future homeowners not to purchase lots in South Nebraska City. Apparently, their counterparts in the latter settlement had included in their townsite lots belonging to Kearney City.
One wonders why Kearney City did not supersede Nebraska City. Its citizenry seemed very intent on promoting the settlement. A certain Henry Sands bought and refurbished the Kearney Hotel, modestly naming it after himself. “The House,” he advertised, “is beautifully located on the bank of the Missouri River and within a short distance of the steamboat landing.”
To get to and from Hotel Sands, if one hoped to venture up to Nebraska City and beyond, one could rent out a horse and buggy from the livery stable.
According to the livery advertisement, scoundrels existed in early Nebraska just as now. The owner (his last name appears to be Fooks, but I’m betting that’s wrong) not only required pre-payment, he also warned renters that they would be liable for damages as well. No exception, he added, “as I know no man.”
Other scoundrel problems dealt with men, presumably men, who cut and hauled timber from another person’s lot, and men who attempted to encroach upon another’s claim. Mr. F. Sanbar went to the pains to warn Richard Noe that he planned to prove up his claim. And Mr. L. Clark stated plainly that his trees were to be left standing. Maybe he was an early advocate for Arbor Day.
And what of women? Could they be scoundrels? Apparently.
“What makes a woman now a days?” asked a contributor. “Intelligence? good looks? A mind where all the virtues dwell? No—dry goods hung on hoops!”
If I’m reading this right, in years of yore, a woman made herself known by her education, her good looks, and virtuous living, but now, sadly, she sought attention through fashionable dress.
Nevertheless, not all were scoundrels. There yet existed the young maiden, who, by her piety and integrity attracted admiration. She could be the redemption of the lesser sort, if only the latter would emulate her.
To see this angelic figure rise from bed in the morn to kneel and pray forgiveness of her Lord, ought not this inspire us all? The poet N. P. Willis indeed thought so: “Oh, God! If souls unsoiled as these, need daily mercy from Thy throne…what far, far deeper need have we!”
Here's a quick review of 'Homesteading the Plains: Toward a New History', by Richard Edwards, Jacob Friefeld, and Rebecca Wingo.
Sets the record straighter. The revisionist thread, running back maybe to the 1930s (according to me), was that the 1862 Homestead Act just made the rich, richer. At the end of the day, teach the naysayers, homesteading was a "minor factor" in farm formation, because homesteaders failed to follow through on their claims, and speculators moved in to sweep up the lands.
The public view, however, was, and is, that homesteading was a great success. Who was and is right, the scholar or the layman? It turns out it was the latter, once UNL Professor Richard Edwards and his co-writers got down to actually looking at the data.
Historian Fred Shannon turns out to be the major villain, the one who cooked the books to make it look like homesteading had been a ruse just to empower the already powerful.
Another myth ('stylized fact' Edwards et al would have it) promoted by the revisionists: Homesteading ousted Native Americans from their lands. Partially true, but mostly false, according to the authors. Well, I look at this analysis a little differently. Sure, the Homestead Act did not oust Native Americans because Indian titles were often long extinguished before 1862, or before the public lands were opened up for homesteading; but this might be semantics here, or something like that. The US government extinguished the titles so US citizens, and would-be US citizens, could move onto the land. It didn't matter that years later it was officially called homesteading, rather than preemption. Homesteading was the method for occupying land that had been intentionally 'got' by the US government to allow USers to move onto it. It's kind of like saying, we put this bandit in jail to hang him, but then we invented the electric chair and electrocuted him. Sure, the electric chair wasn't invented to execute the guy because hanging was the procedure of the day when he was arrested. But the real point is, he was going to be executed all along. Really doesn't matter what means was used in the end. Other than this minor difference in how to look at things, I must admit I suspected Edwards et al were right on the other teaching points all along. Probably because I didn't share the bad rich guy ideology (not that I think rich people are necessarily virtuous).
Even years ago, when I read the Homestead Act, I just couldn't imagine, with the way it was written, how land speculators would have been able to pull it off. In the end, Shannon and his disciples were driven, in my opinion, by ideology. Progressives began the faulty reasoning, the New Dealer generation repeated it with gusto and conviction: the little guy never gets a break, and when he seems to, the rich guy just twists the law to push him aside.
Now I've put this in stark terms, Edwards, Friefeld, and Wingo, not so much. They certainly don't use the word revisionist, and they certainly don't try to get into the mind of the historians who misrepresented the facts, but they do state that the implicated historians did their data collecting and analysis poorly, and that in certain cases they must have known they were creating misinformation.
Also included in the book is an extended portion on women's role in homesteading, which is of interest. If you are fascinated by the development of the West, and particularly how preemption and homestead law functioned, this is a must read.
Charlotte McDaniel, Volunteer Coordinator at the Homestead Monument National Park (located near Beatrice, Nebraska) graciously asked me to speak to visitors during the park’s Living History Weekend, 1-3 September. The topic was Prelude to Homesteading, which meant I had to brush up on Preemption. Now Preemption was a big thing before the Civil War and many Americans out west, especially in Nebraska were Preemptors. In fact, if it hadn’t been for preemption, I doubt I’d be in Nebraska today, because my great-great-great grandfather was a preemptor. He didn’t preempt for long because he died in 1857, and Nebraska had been open to preemptors for only three years. However, he, unlike his descendant, carried around extra cash and so was able to prove up his claim, or rather his heiress, widow, would have been able to. About now some of you have guessed what preemption was, if you didn’t already know, and others are no doubt still scratching their heads.
Preemption came about because the government could not keep squatters off of public land that was not open for sale. When the Founding Fathers signed off on the Treaty of Paris in 1783, they acquired from a very generous British Empire all lands west to the Mississippi. Now the British had been generous, but rather like Napoleon with the Louisiana Purchase, and Santa Anna with Texas. Both knew they would not be able to hang on to the lands given the pressure of incoming American settlers. In any case, trying to sort out the squabbles between Indians and settlers was a headache the British preferred to pass on to young America.
The problem with lands out west, however, was how to dispense of them. Many of our founders were land speculators. George Washington to name one. And though they hoped all American citizens could live a good life with liberty and happiness, they believed that they, the leaders, should be able to cash in on the public domain as well. Therefore, because the nation needed income, they were willing to sell the land, but at a price the average yokels couldn’t afford. Sure, $1 an acre seems feasible, but when the minimum number of acres you can buy is 640, and you’re only able to put away $10 a month, it’ll take a while, unless you want to borrow money and plan on living long enough in the nineteenth century to pay it off.
There was a founder, however, who thought that land ought to be within the reach of the commoner. He believed that farming made a man virtuous, just as it had the citizens of the former Roman republic. Think about farming: You plan, you plant, you cultivate, you harvest, you store your grain…in sum, you’re a person who is duty bound, who perseveres, who has a family and who raises children with discipline (you need kids to be responsible and who have a tough work ethic). The founder who believed in this aristocracy of virtue born of yeomen farmers was Thomas Jefferson.
In 1801, Tom became president, and in 1804 we see a land act that is gentler on the frontiersman. According to this bill, though the cost was $2 per acre, a prospective farmer needed only buy 160 acres, and he could pay in installments.
By 1807 Congress passed a law forbidding squatting, ie going onto public lands that were not open for sale. The territorial governors responsible for enforcing this law found it difficult to carry out their duty since militias were gathered locally, consisting of squatters. So though the law was there the will was missing, and squatting continued on a grand scale.
How could Americans do such a thing. Well, for openers, in a day and age when the Bible influenced beliefs, thinking, and behavior, landless Americans believed that it was godly to clear land and cultivate it. The first book of the Bible backed them up, for it was written that God commanded Adam to farm and earn his bread from the sweat of his brow. In sum, there was a document that trumped the Constitution and put the Congressmen who kept men out of the frontier in a very bad light.
The manufacturers who didn’t want people to go west because he would have to pay his workers more to keep them at the bench, or the established eastern farmer who didn’t want competition, or the land speculator who wanted first dibs on the frontier, all these people tried to quiet the voice of the growing number of voting men who demanded cheap land.
What did the trick for the landless were two panic attacks that hit the US. That of 1819 and that of 1837. These were sharp downturns in the economy that forced the hand of employers into letting go their employees. Now the manufacturers and others wanted the unemployed to go west. By the 1830s, we had a series of temporary preemption laws, stating that squatters were, in essence, forgiven and could claim the land they had improved for $1.25 an acre.
The second panic, that of 1837, inspired Congress to come up with a permanent (until 1891) preemption law. This law legalized squatters coming into Nebraska. To make sure they protected their claims until the government surveyed the land and put it up for sale, the squatters formed claim clubs, and the members of such a club swore an oath to protect the others’ claim until a patent could be obtained.
There were two problems with the Preemption Law of 1841: A preemptor was still liable to pay $1.25 per acre if the government asked for it, and secondly, women who had never been married and married women could not make a claim. Only widows were eligible among the women folk, but that took some doing to qualify.
Finally, in 1862, the government fixed these problems by establishing the Homestead Act of 1862, which did not require payment per acre and allowed young, unmarried, ladies to stake individual claims.
It is a given that the Victorian Era had nothing in common with today's society. Parents, for example, were indifferent toward their children. As one website puts it, "Life for Victorian Children in Victorian times (1830 to 1900) was nothing like childhood in today’s world. For the wealthy there was...very little parent to child communication." Amongst the non-wealthy, kids were sent off to work.
Meanwhile, educated mothers, relying on nannies to do the child rearing, attended club meetings and read journals about literature and morality. This prepared them for their children, if ever their paths should cross, so that they could instruct them on how to be silent and polite.
It should not surprise us then, unwanted as they were, that the infant and child mortality rate was so high during the Victorian era. Living under the oppression, perhaps kids just opted out of life. Or perhaps were helped out.
Lately, I've been indulging in a bit of genealogical research, which has taken me to the graveyards where these weary little creatures of the past have been interred. Seeing their tombstones, it brought to mind the mass graves of infants uncovered by archaeologists studying the Roman era. No one knows why piles of Roman infants might be lumped together in common graves, but it was not a singular event in the Roman era. A Roman form of birth control, after the fact, some have suggested. Maybe the local brothel contributed the bulk of the corpses. Maybe King Herod had something to do with it.
What strikes my interest in the local cemeteries, whether at Nemaha, Brownville, or nearby London, is that each infant or child has his own grave, and with a marker. A hopeful verse, or a poem, sometimes a lament, might be incised into the stone.
These remembrances made me think of the Nebraska Advertiser. It was rare in 1857 to put a death notice in the paper. I suppose everything was suppose to be encouraging when you're advertising a place of residence, a boom town. However, the editor did find space to record the death of little ones.
In May of 1857 three children died within a fortnight. They were born to a newly arrived young couple. The editor hoped to comfort the parents. On July 6th, a two-year old passed away in Nebraska City. The son of Stephen and Lucinda Nuckolls. The following poem was dedicated to the little tyke:
"Sleep on, sleep on, my gentle child,
I would not wake thee now;
I would not mar the happy smile,
that rests upon thy brow.
I would not awake thee from thy dream,
it seems too bright and fair;
I would not change the holy scene,
for those of earthly care."
One senses the sorrow of the parents, the closeness, the need to know that their little one lives on in a happier place.
In Brownville, Nebraska, I don't think the rugged pioneers had yet been informed by the website that they were indifferent to children and found it hard to put up with them. I don't think they wished for the silence of the wee Nuckolls's child.
In the end, the Victorians were not so different from us, although we would like to say they were in order to show how much we've progressed. But then again, anti-abortionists might argue that there is a difference, and that we are perhaps more like the Romans.
Many middle and upper class Americans of the 1850s were well read and accustomed to writing. So it's no surprise that Robert Furnas, editor of the Nebraska Advertiser, held a competent and productive pen. From time to time, however, he complained mildly about the onerous task of putting together a weekly. But if one reads the front page of his broadsheet, one suspects his energies must have been devoted to subsequent pages, because it was principally reserved for articles published previously and elsewhere. Indeed, except for the advertisements and header, there's not a letter, not a dotted i, in any of the articles that originates from the pen of anyone in Brownville's newspaper office, or of anyone in Nebraska for that matter: Two columns of advertisements, over two and a half columns of recent Acts of Congress, a column and a half of a "certainly very funny" story lifted from a page of Tennessee's Nashville Union, and the remainder of the page composed of a variety of borrowed and disparate items. Why all these sponged bits of information?
The latter items include a doubtful story about how the bear acquired a short tail. A fox, it claims, convinced a bear, I suppose the ancestor of all bears, to dig a hole in the ice and stick his long tail in it to catch fish. It was a trick, as we discover with the punch line, but then, we knew the punch line as soon as the bear was told what to do with his tail. Another item suggests preserving apples in a barrel with coarse salt. This from the Scientific American and I don't think it was meant to be humorous...but then one is never sure when it comes to 1850s humor. One of the last items, obviously intending to generate a guffaw, poses a question, though without a question mark at the end, and I'm not sure it needed one: "If a young man has black hair and a pimple on his nose, how long will it take him to win the heart of his lady fair, supposing him to be addicted to stuttering."
The principal "certainly very funny" story is a rather involved and convoluted tale about a drunk, George, who has a shirt made for him by his boarder's wife, Betts. They live in a cabin. A lawyer, Mr. Johnson, stops by wearing a neatly pressed shirt. Betts is in admiration so the lawyer tells her the secret: a flour paste. Betts proceeds to make the starch and apply it to George's shirt. George dons the shirt, sweats in it, then goes to sleep in the loft. When he awakes, the shirt is glued to him. To free himself, he nails the shirt to the loft, jumps down, and the shirt rips off, but not without claiming bits and pieces of George's hair and skin. George wanders off, berating Betts and taking a swig (a horn) from his flask.
The humor, I trust, comes from the telling rather than the story itself. The drunk's description of Betts, for example, is lively. George says that when he can't pay his rent, his landlord takes one-third of it out of George in cussing; "and she, that's his wife, Betts, takes out t'other two-thirds with the battlin stick, and the intrust with her tongan, and the intrust's mor'n the principal--heap more."
However, what I enjoy about this 1850s humor is the presentation. It reminds me of the way people often tell jokes in France, or at least in France some three decades ago when I lived there. The certainly very funny French story begins with a "vous allez rire," or "you're going to laugh." This got me to thinking about why we don't do this so much in America any more. I think it's from a long tradition of satire, beginning perhaps with Ben Franklin and perfected by Mark Twain. And on the other side of the ocean, the British perfected it as well, and perhaps we learned it from them, since our early 19th century literature was primarily of Anglo origin. Think of Dickens. The French did have Voltaire in the 18th century, but after the Revolution all they could think about were long woven tales that ended sadly. Once one starts reading Les Misérables, he has little time left for reading anything funny.
In any case, during the 19th century we somehow figured out that when we're surprised by a punch line it's much more powerful, much more "very certainly funny." If an editor today thought it worthwhile to put a funny story on the front page of his newspaper, I doubt he would lead off with a reference to the story's funniness. More than likely the title would be something like this: "How to Properly Take off a Shirt."
But then that brings me back to my first point: Why all the borrowed stories on the front page? And why the selection? Back then, there was still an interest in reporting what was new and of import, hence the Acts of Congress. Dry reading, but informative and without editorializing. An Act of Congress, we learn in the Nebraska Advertiser, results in the procuring by tax payer dollars of a marble bust of the late Chief Justice John Rutledge. It's not reported as good or bad. It just happened. It's truly up to the reader to form an opinion on it. Even if it's over one-hundred-sixty years old, I find it rather relaxing to read real news in the Nebraska Advertiser's front page, especially after perusing CNN and Fox news. That's my punch line.
In the fall, one could expect that our pioneers began to concern themselves more than usual with issues of health. Fortunately doctors proliferated. Some even vaunted their abilities in the Nebraska Advertiser. Dr. J. L. McKee, physician and surgeon dentist, assured the readership that he plugged and filled teeth in the most approved method. And methods were advancing apace in 1857, as dentists discovered how to lessen the pain in tooth extraction. The key was "galvanic influence." We owe it to a Philadelphia dentist to have applied "galvanic influence" to tooth extraction. It was this Philadelphian who developed the galvanic forceps, "a combination of the ordinary forceps with a galvanic arrangement attached, whereby the nerve of the tooth may be so charged with the galvanic influence that [the nerve's] sensibility will be partially suspended."
Other doctors had their helpful innovations as well. Not burdened by germ theory, they discovered unique methods for either curing or avoiding illness that we, in our germ-filled ignorance, have lost the knowledge thereof.
"Do not approach contagious diseases with an empty stomach," the Advertiser warned, "nor sit between the sick and the fire, because the heat attracts the vapor." We must give them credit for this sound advice, because it is true that a person who eats well is rarely ill. And it is equally true that a man who is outside chopping wood, rather than cozying up to the fireplace, it generally fit. The last bit of advice on this subject informs the reader never to "enter a sick room in a state of perspiration." The reason is obvious: because "the moment you become cool your pores absorb." And again, the wisdom here is well-founded, because a person who sweats and chills is often in ill health as well.
Nonetheless, I think I would prefer to be a sick horse rather than a sick man, especially if experiencing a case of the scours, not an uncommon occurrence in a river town of the Antebellum Era. The remedy for the inconvenience was eggnog: made of "loaf sugar and old Bourbon." Of course I wouldn't want to have the heaves as a horse, because the remedy exchanged the Bourbon for sour milk. But then that might bring back the scours, and hence, the Bourbon. Having worms, though, does not seem to have had such a beneficent outcome in the end. I cannot be convinced that downing a pint of linseed oil could result in anything good, other than well-lubricated bowels. The best thing for a bee-sting, of course, was potash, if applied immediately.
With the type of cures administered by the doctors and self-appointed veterinarians of 1857, it's no wonder that our Brownville druggist, J. H. Maun, sold medicines, chemicals, and paints, seeing that the items appear to have been interchangeable.
By mid-August of 1857, there was some effort among Brownville boosters to make their town more alluring and accessible. It was fine to induce people to come visit, and Mr. Furnas and his staff sent out 50 letters a week appealing to such interested parties, but it was also a little embarrassing to have the guests, the potential investors and citizens, to camp out on the far side of the Missouri without an up-to-date steamer to ferry them across. This would explain why Mr. Finney, who so far had depended on muscle power to transfer visitors across the Big Muddy, now found himself in route for Wellsville, Ohio, to oversee the building of a steam ferry he hoped would one day make its way to the wharves connecting Brownville, Nebraska Territory, to Rock Port, Missouri.
Of course housing still left something to be desired in Brownville. The superintendent of the Nebraska Settlement Company, Mr. Giddings, bragged about squatters building structures as far as 100 miles inland from the Missouri. But the 14 foot square cabins, “some with doors and not windows, some with windows and not doors, and some with neither windows nor doors . . . some with floors and no roofs and some with neither roofs nor floors,” all left something to be desired.
Beyond that 100 miles, I note parenthetically, it was difficult to locate an idyllic spot of ground for a sod house of consequence. Not that the government did not wish to survey the land and put it up for sale. The Surveyor General, headquartered in Kansas City, reported that he indeed had teams out to see to the job. Unfortunately, several men had been murdered in the execution of their duties. The Pawnee shook their head at the news and pointed a disapproving finger at the Cheyenne and Sioux. The Surveyor General, however, considered it strange that the Cheyenne and Sioux would be so charitable as to help their ancestral enemy, the Pawnee, protect their lands against encroachments by the US government by doing their dirty work. He wagged his finger at the Pawnee.
All these suspect actions and spurious accusations, the Surveyor General must have thought, could be avoided if the Pawnee and their “helpful enemies” would follow the lead of the Ottawas, who just concluded a treaty in which they agreed to divide their land amongst themselves, don straw hats, grapple a hoe, and leave their tribal status to join the ranks of American farmers. As citizens, perhaps they might even appropriate some Pawnee lands, or better yet, a 160 acres of former Otoe land near Brownville. Mr. Furnas had 160-acre farm for sale, and 50 lots in south Brownville.
The editor of the Rock Port Banner, Mr. Vannata, braved the Missouri River on Finney’s yawl, wisely leaving his team of horses behind, and made it to Brownville for an inspection. He paid a visit to the Nebraska Advertiser, where he and his party inquired after Mr. Furnas. “A very pleasant, good looking, gentlemanly man of about 28 years,” said the Missourian, “answered to the name, and extending the hand of an honest printer gave us a cordial greeting.” After getting the latest news from Mr. Furnas, Mr. Vannata proceeded with his inspection.
In his report, he remarked that he had visited the place three months previous and in this second visitation noted the surprising growth that had since transpired. “Quite a number of good houses have been built and are all occupied; several new stores and shops have gone into operation and some three new banking houses have opened.”
After cataloguing all this prosperity, Mr. Vannata dined at the Nebraska House. Apparently this inspired him to leave, because that’s exactly what he did after his meal. Our editor, Mr. Furnas, was well aware of Brownville’s shortcomings in the hotel and restaurant business. Understandably so, because it’s awfully hard to entertain would-be Brownvillians in structures that only Mr. Giddings found worthy to mention. So Mr. Furnas and his cohorts were hard at work collecting monies for a new hotel, aptly to be named the Brownville Hotel. A stonemason, Mr. John Hart, was already hard at work trying to make this dream a reality.
So there is hope for Brownville in the fall of 1857, even as the nation undergoes a severe economic depression, at least once Mr. Finney returns aboard his steam ferry.
"Times ain't now as they used to was"
There were several frontier issues on the minds of the men of Brownville in August of 1857. Of course there was the Indian problem. The Cheyenne or Sioux, or both, had just finished up murdering several men of two surveying parties out in southwest Nebraska, although, there was some doubt as to whether it was either of these rambunctious tribes. A conspiracy theory was gaining traction that it was actually the Pawnee who just didn't want the credit, and suggested the deed was done by their enemies. At least this was the opinion of the Surveyor General, arguing that the crime could only profit the Pawnee, who had a claim on the lands being surveyed and were somewhat suspicious of the government's intent.
The solution to the Indian Problem, it appears, was to make sedentary dirt farmers of the wandering buffalo hunters. At least this was in view for the Ottawa tribe of Indians residing in Kansas. As of July 31, 1857 the plan was to have the US Senate ratify a treaty with the Ottawa that would divide up their land into family sized farms and declare the newly established agriculturalists full-fledged American citizens. I suspect there would be land left over that could be sold to others and result in a benefit for all, government, settlers, and Ottawa Indians . . . at least from a certain perspective.
Another concern of the frontier was the horse problem. James Coleman opened up his livery in Brownville but soon discovered his business would fare better with mounts and driving horses, and forthwith paid for an ad in the Advertiser to see if any could be had for a generous price. But this interest in horses extended beyond the boundaries of the frontier. The Advertiser couldn't resist in relating to its readers the purchase of a horse in Cincinnati. It was a gray stallion, some fourteen hands high and six years of age. Quite a specimen was Cossack. However, I'm not sure anyone would have wanted the horse on the frontier with all of its Indian problem, as Cossack's singular achievement in life was to have carried a certain Captain Nolan to certain death in the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava.
In addition to horses, the men of Brownville needed settlers to grow their town and perhaps fatten their pockets by selling wares and real estate to the newcomers. It was difficult, though, to drum up business in Brownville if settlers couldn't reach town from their homesteads. And the Advertiser made this known to its readers. The forty families who settled in the new (but now nonexistent) town of Saint Frederick, (not far from present day Johnson, Nebraska), traveled to far off Nebraska City to trade rather than come to Brownville which was five miles closer. All because their horses objected to swimming the Little Nemaha River. If the Brownvillians and their neighbors of Nemaha county could settle on paying for a bridge, business would come their way.
I'm not sure this would be an easy task, mining resources from the penniless homesteaders to build a bridge. Just paying for a school house in Brownville, an institution that not only the men but all the ladies deemed necessary for the community's health and future, was literally taxing the limit of what settlers could do. After more than one issue of the Advertiser published the names of men due to pay the school tax, no doubt hoping to shame them into completing their duty, only two citizens had anteed up. "This wont build a house," declared the newspaper, saving the ink of an apostrophe. Though one might think the two payments might have gotten the outhouse in place.
As noted in another blog entry, the men of Brownville were very concerned about pleasing the women. A town can't grow without children, and children can't be born without women, though the Advertiser did report that orphans were being gleefully rounded up in the East for export to the West. But still, even an orphan ultimately needed a mother. And women were in short supply. Just across the river, in Holt county Missouri, an area that had been settled, there were still too few women. A recent census counted 2,663 white males and only 2,432 white females. Supposing that the 279 slaves were mostly male, the odds were against a young man finding a helpmate.
And this is why the schoolhouse was important. Such an institution would attract a mother. And also the streets needed to be safe, which explained why the new owner of the confectionary saloon, Mr. W. Alderman had to report to Judge Samuel Black to plead for clemency for having incited a riot. Furthermore, if anyone thought of abusing a woman, the Advertiser warned, they should pay attention to the news from New Hampshire, wherein one woman, abused by her husband, awaited the night, then sewed her man up in his bed clothes while he was asleep, and then "thrashed him within an inch of his life."
It's hard to know if all the stories related in the Advertiser are true, like the one recounting how Henry Hoffman caught a catfish weighing 120 pounds off the Brownville wharf on August ninth, but the moral lessons are clear: treat women like ladies and boost a frontier town any way you can.
Newspapers of 1857 carried some very serious stories as well as a column of jokes. Today, it's not always clear which variety amuses us more. In any case, this blog is dedicated to analyzing the pages of the Nebraska Advertiser newspaper of 1857. Chime in if you've run across some interesting stories from the time period.