The Wisconsin Cartters - Chapter Fifteen
The years 1861 to 1880 were filled with many experiences both happy and saddening for the Cartter family at Disco. Recalling a few may illustrate some of the stress and strain of early pioneering life in the mid-west as well as bring back memories of the happy occasions.
It was in 1861 that James Bruce with several others organized the Jackson County Agricultural Society which later developed into an annual event which still carries on. He was a good gardener and proud of his produce. Louise Curran tells of an incident that happened which changed his enthusiasm about competition. “One year he was especially proud of his onions and had prepared an excellent exhibit. He returned to the fair, after judging had been completed, to find that someone had substituted their inferior onions for his, and had taken first place with them. This so disappointed him that he never exhibited again.”
On occasion he made the weekly newspaper with articles such as the following:
“It was reported that James B. Cartter of Springfield (town) produced an egg on his farm to stop all boasting as to egg size. It was layed by an ordinary Bramah hen and weighed 4 and a half ounces. It measured 8-3/4 inched the large way around and 6-3/4 the other.”
Sadness came to the family in 1860 and 61. Nettie Swift, Isadora’s younger sister had married Andrew Stevens before the family left Wheatland. The Stevens later moved to La Crosse. Nettie was a very good correspondent and her letters, many of which were preserved, are full of youthful enthusiasm and optimism. Her first pregnancy was very difficult, complicated by the fact that she had contracted T.B. Chloe Swift, her mother, ready always to help her family, was with her. The following found in a letter to Isadora, is Chloe’s description of what occurred after Mrs. Pliney, the Mid-wife, came. “- - -On examination she found there was trouble for us all the child was coming double. She went out after a little and motioned for me to come. She told me there was trouble. It gave me such a shock I was so weak I could hardly stand. Well the child was born half past one oclock Tuesday morn. She was spaird but the little boy was taken from us. His head was the last to be born, her panes left her just the time she needed them the most so the little fellow must die about a half an our before it was born. She had a hard time of it. I wouldn’t not have been away from her if I had all my things gone to ruing. I should think the baby would wae between seven and eight pounds, the prettyest babe I ever saw.”
Nettie (Maria Jeanette) put up a brave fight against a disease for which there was little cure in those days. Her death occurred April 1, 1861. Her letters were always full of cherrful optimism in spite of her affliction.
The collection of letters made by Ruth (Knapp) Forssen and referred to in chapter eleven contains many letters between Isadora or her mother Chloe, and relatives who lived in Falmouth, Mass., the Swift’s original home. An excerpt taken from a letter written by Lizzie Nye to Chloe reflects the concerns of the time. It is written Feb. 27, 1863 shortly after Lizzie had been out to Wisconsin for a visit.
“It does certainly seem like a dream to think I have been way out to Wisconsin and back - - - I would like to take that journey again and have my husband and Feemy with me. - - But what times we are having. Provisions and cotton goods are high. Calicos are 28 cents, cloth 48 cents and sugar – you can get but a handful for a dollar. - - - We see by the papers the Conscription Bill has passed. That is worse that all the rest, to force men – seems cruel, but something must be done. - - “
A letter written just a month later gives the reaction of a young man 35 years old, married and with two children. The writer is Charles Swift, Isadora’s oldest brother who is writing to his parents March 8, 1863.
“With a troubled spirit I seat myself to address you today. It is this infernal conscription act that exempts all the business and moneyed men of the country and draws all into service that are poor unless he should be so fortunate as to have a little money. - - -
You have read the act and are as conversant with its details as myself and must know that you have two sons that are prescribed by this act. I do not know how Oliver feels about it but for me I am most indignant and shall not go if drafted if it be possible for me to pay the price of my liberty - - -“ As it turned out neither Charles or Oliver were conscripted and the war closed in 1865.
Work on farms was hard in those days as so much of the farm help was enlisted in the war effort. Those producing the crops had to do double duty to maintain production. Less effort to expand acreage was apparent. Shortages of some products changed some farming practices. It was during this period that, due to shortage of sugar, many settlers planted their own sorghum cane. Oliver Swift built and operated on his farm the first sorghum mill in the community to process the syrup. It was used by many of the neighbors. Another significantly different crop was added to the production list in the ‘70’s, hops, was just being introduced in northern Wisconsin. By 1880 the Cartters raised up to 1400# of hops. Oliver Swift had gone heavily into this crop employing during harvest time up to 25 to 30 pickers. The crop did not prove profitable in the long run for Wisconsin farmers. This move had been tried in an effort to find a substitute for wheat, which became an inefficient crop to raise due to rust.
Disease, sickness, and death within the Cartter and Swift families seemed to have peaked during these years. 1863 saw an epidemic of scarlet fever in Jackson County. Both Julia and David then seven and six years old were stricken, but fortunately recovered without ill effects. News came that same year of the death of George, James’ younger brother, in Portland, Oregon where he had gone from Sacremento. Only 36 years old and just recently married he was the first of the six children of David Kellogg Cartter (1) to die. The cause, typhoid fever. Two years later 1865, James received word of Phederus’ death, he being the oldest brother. Jane (Scrantom) Cartter, Harleigh’s wife, died that same year. Harleigh died in Arizona in 1874. Of the Swift family, Charles lost his first wife, Jenny Paine, in 1860 and married Sarah Douglas in 1867. He and his son, Charlie had lived with John and Chloe Swift at Black River Falls during this period. After the second marriage Charles moved his family to Eau Claire where he carried on his carpenter trade and tried his hand at selling.
John Swift died June 11, 1867 leaving the family home in Black River Falls to Chloe. However, after his death she spent much of the time with her three children. She was a very motherly soul and thought very much of her grandchildren. Finally in the fall of 1870 Chloe’s family convinced her to take a trip back to her old home in Falmouth, Mass., and to Utica and Venice in N. Y. State. She spent over a year visiting friends and relatives many of whom she had corresponded with throughout the years. Two weeks at each place was her visiting pattern. Her letters home indicated that the trip was a moving experience for her and the vivid portrayal of her visits made Isadora and James feel much better acquainted with their New England cousins and ancestors. While in Mass., Chloe attended a Falmouth Town Meeting where she met one of her old teachers, John Parker. About this experience she writes: “Tell Jim (James Bruce) I haven’t taken so much comfort in thirty years.” Her house was very much on her mind. It was closed up but it seemed that each letter would suggest something for Isadora to “look in” for.
Isadora in a letter to Chloe March 1871 mentioned that “her hens had begun to lay and wasn’t she fortunate.” This explained by the fact that in those days it was expected that hens didn’t lay during the winter months. In order to have eggs all winter they were put down either in salt or in oats in the fall as a means of preserving them. Chloe answers this letter saying “Hens here lay all winter – eggs are 45¢ a dozen – butter the same.”
Julia and David were in school now both showing great interest in their studies. A scholarship report for one four-month term of Julia’s work was received at home as follows – quite different from today’s reports.
Julia E. Cartter
(Scholarship for 4 months)
No. days school – 86
No. days present – 86
No. perfect lessons in geography – 86
No. perfect lessons in Arithmetic – 84
No. perfect lessons in Reading – 169
No. perfect lessons in spelling – 153
Whole number of perfect lessons – 412
Times head in spelling – 20
Times absent – 0
Imperfect lessons – Geography – 0
Arithmetic – 2
Reading – 3
Spelling – 11
Signed – George Benedict – Teacher
Unfortunately the date and year are not given in this report.
James Bruce’s mother, Elizabeth (Hollister) Cartter passed away in Rochester, N. Y. September 1876 having outlived three of her sons, George, Phederus, and Harleigh. She lived to be 87 having been cared for in her advanced years by members of Phederus’ family, primarily Nannie Weaver, who had through letters kept James Bruce aware of family affairs in Rochester.
A letter written to James and Isadora by Charles Swift in 1876 indicates that his migrating spirit had not been dampened. Charles, when writing, was in Blue Springs, Florida. (Located west and north of Perry on Highway 98) where he has been commissioned to build a house for an Eau Claire, Wis. man. The letter makes especially interesting reading 100 years later for one, now retired, who spends part of each year in the Sunshine State.
“I write this from the midst of a fine orange grove of about sixty trees some of them are twenty years old loaded with the nicest oranges you ever saw. They lay on the ground, all I’ve to do is to reach and take what I want to eat. - - - The climate is the best – just the place for invalids and old folks to enjoy the remains of an ill-spent life or to enjoy their remaining days. The time will come when this will present the traveler superior attractions that we do not dream of.”
Charles had a good description of Florida’s natural setting and was considering investment in land which he felt would be wise. Whether or not he actually invested money there we do not know. We do know, however, that he did not remain in Florida, for within ten years’ time he was in the Dakota Territory along with Oliver. One thing evident from his letter is that most folks at that time were about ready to write off most of Florida to the east and south as not being orange grove territory, and fit largely for mere grazing land. How surprised he would be with today’s developments. The pioneering spirit was there but Florida must have seemed a long way from family, and ready cash was probably not available for investment