The Wisconsin Cartters - Chapter Eleven
Our first real evidence of James' inner feelings can be secured from a series of letters written to him by Isadora Swift who later was to become his wife. She saved these letters and thanks to the careful and efficient handling by one of James Bruce’s great grand-daughters, Mrs. Ruth Knapp Forssen of Missoula, Montana, they are summarized as to content and indexed for all those who are interested to read. It is unfortunate that Isadora’s letters to him in response were not saved.
These letters were written when James made a trip, starting early in May 1854, which took him into the new state of Iowa. It was so declared in 1846. James is traveling by light wagon with a team of horses and is definitely in search of new land on which to settle. The state of Iowa had only recently been opened for settlement. The quotes being used are selected first of all to give a better picture of the man, James Bruce, his inner thoughts, his human concerns and his longings for a place he could call homes with a life's companion at his side. In addition we may get from these letters a glimpse of that mad rush by many people who were seeking land they might call their own. We can thus know better the accompanying hardships these people faced as witnessed by a personal observer.
The letters were sent from a settlement then known as Bradford in Chickasaw County located in the northeastern corner of the state of Iowa, almost due west from Prairie du Chien, Wis. Today's maps do not show a Bradford there, indicating that the name may have been changed to avoid conflict with a Bradford now located in Franklin County, Iowa. Its present name is New Hampton, the county seat of Chickasaw County.
The quotes which follow are copied just as written and the dates of letters are given.
Letter – May 25 – 1854 – "Another week is past in this new land. It has been a lonesome one to me among strangers not anyone that I am acquainted with, none to converse with but strangers. They have no sympathy in common with me. It makes my spirits sad when I think of those that I have left behind but I suppose I shall get over it as we get over all the ils of life. Home-sick I am not, sad I am. I should like to see you more than enny one. If I could talk with you but for a few minutes I should feel better. It would seem like home and oald times. - - - We have had some very bad weather since I crossed the Mississippi. I never saw such bad roads. The streames were so high that they had to be swam if crossed. But it is very pleasant now. This is one of the most beautiful days that I ever saw. The sun shines bright, the air is pure, my body feels strong.
Tomorrow in company with George Tower I shal go up the east branch of the Seder (Cedar) river some twelve miles for the purpos of looking at the country before I make up my mind whear to setle. Mest weak I intend to go up the mane branch of the Seder River some thirty or forty miles and then on the Shelrock River some twenty miles west of Seder.
- - - This is a new cuntrey but time will make an oald cuntrey as it makes us oald. What mater whether it be an oald or a new cuntrey – contentment is all. This makes one happy. - - - This little village some two years oald has some twenty houses in it. There is three large houses building in the place and lots of small ones. I think it will be a smart town in a few years."
Letter – June 1 – 1854: " - - - Their stands in the road in front of the barn four covered wagons with movers bound west up the Seder and the Shelrock rivers. You can see morestrangers here in one day that you would with you in one year, all hunting for homes. This country is settling verry fast. It mite be settles as thick as Wheatland in a short time. - - - Inhabitance most of them from the East, New York and New England, is largely represented hear, some from the South. There is a school in this place with some sixty schollars and a prospect of a large town someday. - - - Oald Rock and Charley (his horses) are wel they send their best repects to you. They are out in the pasture today. - - - There is not the least danger of their jumping over the outside fence for the one is the Atlantcik and the other the Pasifick. - - "
Letter – June 22 – 1854: " - - - Since I came to this state I have when the weather would permit spent moast of the time in looking at the cuntry; I want to finde a place that sutes me. When I make another home I want to make it for life. - - - -You wish to know when I will come back. I will come as soon as it is consistent. You must not be unesy I shall come if life is spared to me. I want to see you but we must be reasonable. When you come hear I want you to come and be comfortable. - - - -Thousands come here and suffer very much, they come unprepared, come before they have a place to lay their heades, they have to live in their wagons and lay on the ground. - - - - Imigration has been verey great this year to this state. You have know idea what a number of strangers there is in this state. Thousands are coming and will continue to come till this state is filed up. - - - - I think I shall be one of the number. - - - "
Letter – July 5 – 1854: - "- - - For the last three weeks it has been the hottest weather I ever saw this season of the year. It has fairly prostrated me. I have not done much since hot weather commensed, I could not. - - - - I have often wished that I was in your front room with the doors and windows open and fresh breeze blowing on me from the lake. - - - - I often think of that old rocking chair and seated in it with you on my lap, your arm around my neck, your cheek against mine and the sweet kiss impressed on my cheek. I wish I had one now. I would give one in return loved one, but we must wait a little longer. - - -
I have maid up my mind to stay in this country – today I have bought a peace of property in this state. It is in the village of St. Charles 15 miles northwest from Bradford in the county of Floid (Floyd). You have been anxious for me to buy some property here. I have done it. I think the reason you had for wishing me to buy here was the fear of my going to California. I do not think I shall go there at present dear one. - - - Your friend Sarah Grifeth lives thirty miles from this place in Rock Grove in Floid County. Her faterh is building a mil in the grove. There is a great excitement in this part of the state at the present. Theres about 800 Indians at Clear Lake at the present time and at Rock Grove the families have gathered into one hous for difence at the difrent points. The whites, about twenty-fice at Clear Lake, sent out for help. About one hundred have gone to their relief. Folks threw this county are badly scairt. - - - - - The name of the Indians is the Sues (Sioux) they have killed one Winabago that they found at Clear Lake. - - - "
Letter – July 6 – 1854: - - - "Time flys fast, you are thought of often and always with love. - - - My thoughts are in Wheatland, they are with you. How often I have drwn you to my breast and imprinted a sweet kiss on your lips and cheek. I hope to repeat the same love token often again if nothing happens this fall. - - - - The second month of summer comes. It will soon be gone then comes the falling leaves – with them the chil blasts. - - - - I have not written to Oliver (Isadora’s brother) yet but will as soon as I am settled as to what business I shall follow. When you write to him give him my compliments I should like to hear from him and see him. He could get wages in this country. Carpenters and Joiners get twelve shillings a day here and a great call for them at present, but lumber is scarce. - - -"
Letter – July 29 – 1854: "- - - If nothing happens tomorrow I shall start from St. Charles a few miles from hear. I may go to Clear Lake some 60 miles from hear before I return. - - - - I shall be home sometime in September. God willing, perhaps before, I am anxious to see you but shall not come till I have looked this country threw to my satisfaction. When I settle down I mean to make it a perminant home. I want Oliver when he comes home, if it is before I return, to stay at home until I return. If I settle west I want him to settle with me. We should be lonesome if there is not some of our friends with us. Price is homesick bad, I think he will be home soon. I pity anyone that is homesick. - - - - I have seen many of your sex sit down and have a harty cry for their home that they left. I hope that if it should be your lot to some west you will not be homesick. Many a lonesome hour have I passed among strangers here. If you had been with me I think it would have been different. One cause of my lonesomeness here is that most of the time lately I have been sick, but you must not be scared at that I feel better now. - - - - I want to see Oliver and tell him of this country and all about it and the rest of them."
Letter – Aug. 16 – 1854: "This will be the last letter you will get from me at present from Bradford. Next week Monday, nothing hapning to prevent, I shall start for Manasota (Minnesota) territory north some one hundred miles from this place. I am going to look at that country before I return. Then I shall go home to my Isadora crossing the river at Prairie La Cros to Wisconsin, from there to Madison to Janesville and from that place to Wheatland. It will take some three or four weeks to make the journey clear around on the account of the health on the main traveled roads from here to east. - - - - there is a great deal of sickness all threw the west as well as with you. The Colery (Cholera) small pox and other diseases to numeris to mention. It is healthy in this place at present how long it may remain I can’t say."
He closes this last letter in the series written in Bradford, Iowa as follows:
"I have written you once a week ever since I came here. You have been a good dear one in answering them for which I am grateful. I don't know what its to write but that I love you.
From you dear friend always – J.B. Cartter"
From the tone of these letters one may make several suppositions some with clear assurance of correctness others without sufficient evidence or certainty. We can be sure that James’ return to Wheatland must have been a joyous one for our two major characters. Did James arrive home with any firm conviction as to Iowa being his choice for a future home? His letters gave indication that he had some hesitation about taking Isadora into this new territory without part of her family also making that move. We are not aware of the reason why James was so interested in making contact with Oliver, who was Isadora’s next older brother. Oliver had evidently just been married and had strong feelings favoring a move to Black River Falls in Jackson County.
What would the Swift family decision be? It seems evident that James, having found comfort in his association with the Swift Family, would hesitate to strike off by himself even though Isadora might agree to accompany him. It is very evident that health was a prime factor which influenced many decisions. James himself, through a relatively young man of 39 years, had been plagued with many health problems and seemed especially cautious.
It was doubtless George H. Cartter, James' youngest brother, who had, by his enthusiasm, stimulated James to consider California and a move further west. However an immediate decision as to the best course to follow was postponed when George stopped by Wheatland while on his return trip to Sacramento from a visit to the family home at Rochester, New York. He brought news of their mother’s critical illness which prompted James to make an unplanned trip to Rochester, N.Y. in September of 1854 after returning from Iowa. James had not seen his mother for several years although he had been kept informed of her health by members of his family living in Rochester.
On his return from visiting his mother James stopped to see his older brother David who then lived at Masillon, Ohio. The following excerpts are taken from his letter to Isadora written while at Masillon on October 16, 1854.
"When I left you my intention was to be back within two weeks but was disappointed. When I arrived where my mother was, I found her very feeble. I am afraid she has but a short time of her life at best. - - - - Time is making us all old. She will soon pass away and we must follow." (Though critically ill at the time, Elizabeth Cartter lived until 1876 outliving three of her sons)
He continues, "For two weeks of the time since I left I have just been able to sit in a chair. I have had the worst attack of my throat disease that I have ever had. - - - - I have got out as far as my brother’s (David Kellogg Cartter) in Ohio and am with him at present. I am hoping soon to be with you. Give my love to your family.
Yours ever, J. B. Cartter"
After returning from his trip to Rochester James and the Swift family must have held a conference to determine their future plans. Oliver and Charles Swift as well as their father John evidently favored the Black River Falls area which James had also explored. No definite record was made of their decision, if in fact one was made, but on December 14, 1854 James did purchase a lot from D. J. Spaulding in the new settlement of Black River Falls.
Perhaps James wasn't yet sure which way to turn now that he had property in both Bradford, Iowa and Black River Falls, Wisconsin. We find him next in Madison on March 3, 1855 explaining in a letter to Isadora:
"When I left Wheatland my health was comparatively good. On my second day out my right arm began to pain me. It grew worse from day to day. On the fifth I arrived at Madison. The nite I came here I passed without sleep. My arm began to swell and continued for five days."
On March 17th he writes: "I have been here (Madison) four weeks and have been in bed more than half of the time. If I do not get well enough to travel and look at the country I shall return home to Wheatland, - - -I have not hardly made up my mind which way to go from here, North or West."
The decision must have been made soon after that for July, 1855 finds the entire Swift family and James Bruce in Black River Falls, the frontier country seat of Jackson County. This county had been organized in 1853 having first been a part of Crawford and then of La Crosse counties.