Diary of Susannah Woychik, 1868- 10 Working for the Markhams
Kwiat bez zapuchi. Jak czlowick bez duszy
A rose without a smell is like a man without a soul
Can you believe it? We needed a fire in the house to keep warm today. It was 56º at 6.30.
We had our first picking of beans for supper tonight and, boy, were they good! (You see I am starting to talk like a Yankee, and am quite comfortable in English now.)
Moma and I have spent quite a lot of time making jam. All of us kids went out picking berries, and we got lots. The wild strawberries were nearly over, but the raspberries and blue berries were in great quantities and we each filled a pail. Some of them we ate straight away, but Moma said that they would go off in this weather if we didn’t do something with them. So we bought some sugar, and boiled up the mixture of those left, and that jam was really nice to have on our bread.
Because we had accumulated some money for extras, we spent some of it on Mason jars - which we will use to preserve some of the fruit. These are glass jars that have metal screw tops, but the different thing is that they have lids which seal very tightly when they are heated sufficiently - and then they can be safely used for months afterwards.
I expect we will be using these jars a lot, for things like sauerkraut, pickles, sauces, and vegetables.
I thought I’d add some more information that I found out about the Markhams. Fanny, who I work for about once a week, was my source of information.
“The fall of 1860, George and his brother were tired of living in the log cabin and decided to build a house. His mother had not really been very settled so they decided to build one just like that which they had lived in in Guernsey. That one was called Ronceval too, and was on the Rue D’Aval, in the Vale, Guernsey.”
“That sounds French. Is it a French island then?”
“Well, as I understand it, it is closer to France than England and many of the locals are French speaking. But it is part of Great Britain, while being independent at the same time.”
“Where does the name come from?”
“Well I asked that too. Ronceval is a high Pyrenees pass between France and Spain, and the site of a defeat suffered by Charlemagne on 15 August 778. Among the Franks who died was Roland, a high-ranking aristocrat, who was later immortalized as the subject of an Old French poem, The Song of Roland, and the story goes that it was at Ronceval that Roland died, after a fierce battle.”
“It must have taken a long time to build a house as big and fancy as this.”
“They didn’t do it all at once. First they dug and put in the root cellar, and as they had had a very good crop, they were able to store two hundred bushels of potatoes, one hundred fifteen bushels of carrots, three hundred forty bushels of rutabagas, five bushels of beets, besides cabbages, onions and mangel wurzels and pumpkins for the stock.”
“They must have been very rich,” I said.
“Not really. The relatives back in England gave 160 pounds English money toward building the new home. That’s about $800.00. George’s Father, John, still got half pay, as he was retired from the Navy. Most of the timbers for the house were hauled from Tamarack’s lumber mill (that’s 14 miles - about half way to Trempealeau) by ox team. At that time they had a span of horses and two yoke of oxen. A dry kiln was constructed to care for the green lumber for the house. The carpenters had to "dress" all the siding which comes from the pinery in rough finish. Rails for fencing also had to be hauled from there.”
“It must have been difficult in those days, having to travel such a long way for everything,” I said.
“Even the grain for grist had to be hauled to Fountain City or to Pigeon Falls, to be ground, as the mill, here in Burnside hadn’t yet been set up. It was an all day trip if the miller could not grind immediately. If not, another day must be devoted to returning for the flour, etc.”
Still cool, only 52º this morning. We are taking advantage of the cool weather to do some canning. Our beans and peas have done well, and we plan to can four quarts of each. All the other vegetables are thriving, and we have been eating better than we had for the last six months. The boys regularly go fishing on their own, now they know how, and we have sunfish or blue gills for supper at least every other night. They are a soft sweet flat fish - we had never seen them before. But they have lots of bones, so Moma has to bone the ones for the younger boys before they can eat. We sometimes put the whole fish right into the fire - packing clayish soil around them, and then peeling it off with the skin. Sometimes we fry them in a pan, but mostly we don’t bother to scale them. But Pa says that we should make the effort, as then we can eat the skin too, and that is the best part, he thinks.
We even had an early picking of potatoes today, and I think they were from the plants that were growing before we arrived. Pa wants us to let most of them stay underground as long as possible so they get big. The squashes are doing well too, and we are anxious to see what they will taste like.
It was 54º this morning but got up to a pleasant 72º by noon. then we had lots of heavy rain. We’ve had a lot of rain lately. We can use it for our gardens, but the men whose crops are almost ready for cutting are worried.
Pa went out with Uncle Simon and his son Peter yesterday and between the three of them they shot 15 prairies chickens (pictured above). We haven’t had those to eat before as they don’t have them in Prussia. Anyway, they are like small grouse, and our five will just about make a Sunday dinner for our family. But Pa says there are pleanty more.
We had a violent rain storm yesterday with thunder and lightning. We heard that a man in Cantarell Wisconsin was killed by lightening.
Mrs. Markham called by again today, and while we were having tea, she told me some more stories to use in my diary.
“In March 1861, prairie fires threatened the homestead and all hands had to get out to fight it for more than a day, digging fire breaks and setting back-fires. This was the time that the Markhams were building their new house. All the carpenters were living on the site during the week preparing the material for the house, going home each Saturday. All the previous winter had been devoted to hauling lumber and making rail fences. With carpenters, masons, and regular members of the household they also had Mr. Lyne and Walter Maule as frequent visitors. George’s mother baked bread and cakes two or three times a week and certainly churned butter once a week, and each churning produced 11 pounds.”
“Boy, she must have been busy,” I said.
“She would have had help,” said Fanny. “And they weren’t just busy with farm work. At the spring election George was elected constable and overseer of roads and Charles Lyne, the old tutor, was made school superintendent and Justice of the Peace. He was a vicar too, in Guernsey, but didn’t hold services here. Life on the farm was non-stop, aside from caring for the stock it seems to have been a never-ending struggle. To cut down trees for fuel, to grub out roots, break the land and erect fences around it for protection of the crops. I think I mentioned before that we had to go eight miles to Arcadia for the mail so the men used to use that as an excuse for fishing, and often coming home with as many as 22 trout caught on the way.
“On June 16 the house was ready and they christened it by having a church service in it. Miss. F. Bishop, (that’s me) who taught school, came on horseback to attend divine services. George and Arthur always read the Psalms and lessons, every Sunday. Rev. Maule took the services, of course.”
“So was that the first time you met George?”
“Well, I had seen him around, and quite liked him. I came from Ohio, and wasn’t an emigrant, and he seemed to like the idea of a Yankee girlfriend.”
“How long before you married him?”
“Well, I think I will have to save that story for another day,” she said.
“And did they still have anything to do with the Indians in the new house?” I asked, not wanting her to stop telling stories.
“The Indians came and pitched their wigwams along the river just below our fence. They brought up venison they had just shot which they exchanged for flour, pound for pound.”
I sure do love hearing all these stories that Fanny tells.
Pa and the older boys went grouse shooting today and got four grouse, one mallard and one pigeon. Hopefully that will keep us in meat for a week or so, if we can keep it from going off.
We picking huckleberries. Ma and I will make jam with the extras.
Most of our vegetables are ready to pick now - and we must somehow preserve all the extras. We are buying some more jars to put sauerkraut in - as that will be our staple vegetable all during the winter. I thought I would put in the recipe, as Moma was talking about how we would be doing it.
We will be using one of our large buckets, and inside it putting 5 lbs of chopped up cabbage. Sprinkle 3 Tbsp. salt on as you go - with some between each layer. We will also use a few onions and carrots, peeled and chopped and some dill seeds. Mix the vegetables together and pack them down as you go, tapping it down with fists. Then we put a plate on top that fits just inside the bucket, and put a weight on top - for which we used a boiled heavy rock. Cover with a clean cloth to keep out the flies. Press down on the weight every few hours until the brine rises above the cover. This takes about a day. Stir the bucket in the corner of the kitchen. If it is in a cool place it will ferment slower, but will be preserved for longer. Check every few days, if you have some scum on the surface, skim off what you can, but don’t worry about it. Rinse off the plate and the weight. Taste after a few days. When you like its taste, you can take some off and eat it over the next few weeks, and then, you can preserve the rest, and restart the process over again. The sauerkraut juice is a rare delicacy and good for the digestion. If the brine evaporates, you have to top up with salty water. You can use the old kraut water for the next batch, which starts it going more quickly. I can’t wait until it’s ready.
Pa got 10 prairie chickens today. They are fatter than the last lot he shot, but what a lot of effort getting them ready to cook.
Because Uncle Simon got his crops in late, they aren’t yet ready for harvesting. But the other farmers in the area are ready. So Pa and Uncle Simon will be part of the harvesting team that goes around to all the farms. They are starting on the Markhams place. They might work on Sunday too, because even the church recognizes that crops can be ruined if they aren’t collected in season, and a bad hail storm just now might destroy a season’s work. And then the other men will help Uncle Simon do his crops in a month or so, when they are ready.
We went to visit Pa while he was working and took the threshing crew a drink and cookies. Afterwards, Moma and I went back into the house, and I got Mrs. Markham to go on a bit again with her story about how they got on when they first moved here.
“I was courting George all that time, so know quite a bit of what happened. I spent most of my Sundays at their place,” she said.
“The house cost a lot more than George had reckoned,” she said. “It was necessary to borrow another $300 from the bank to complete payment for the new house and they charged him 10% on that. Taxes that year were $24.32. That next winter, they began to have timbers for the new barn. On one trip to the "Tamaracks" they hauled out, with two teams, a couple of 40 foot timbers and one 16 foot stick. It seems that anyone who wanted timbers for building had only to go down and chop, haul it home. Another time, they hauled a 40 foot stick and three twenty-eight foot posts.
“In early March there was a 30-inch snow fall. They rode horseback to Arcadia for the mail and visited friends on the way. In getting on her horse his mother had a bad fall on rough ice and hurt her hip and that same week Arthur injured his little finger in the feed cutter, taking off the nail and part of the quick. Practically everyone of the men injured a finger in that machine. Sunday, May 4, 1862, they slept and took their meals in the new house, having hauled beds and other furniture from Fountain City. Mr. and Mrs. Hale came as hired help for $400 a year and had their little Charlie with them. The men were still trying to clear the fields of grubs. Captain Markham devoted the greater share of his time to taking long walks as he was frequently subject to seizures which left him feeling weak and miserable. On October 8, 1862 George and I were married. Wedding trip was to Twin Cities via La Crosse.”