1858: Henry & Elizabeth to Hannibal & Eliza

Regrettably I have not been able to identify the correspondents in this letter who are all referred to by their first names. Notwithstanding, the letter retains considerable value as a classic example of the hardships faced by settlers who entered the territory of Kansas prior to statehood. This letter was written by the wife of an 1857 emigrant to Kansas Territory who traveled with her children by railroad to St. Louis where she met her husband and journeyed by steamboat up the Missouri river to the log cabin he had prepared for them near Leavenworth. We learn from the letter that the family are Quakers—most likely from eastern Ohio. Presumably the couple she wrote to lived near Columbus, Ohio.

Catholic sisters arrive at the Leavenworth Landing in November 1858


Leavenworth [Kansas Territory]
1 mo. 3rd [January 3rd] 1858

My dear Friends Hannibal & Eliza,

Ever since we have been here I have been desiring and watching for an opportunity to commence a letter thus—but indeed we have been closely pressed. Our misfortune, I think—not crime—but as Henry expresses himself in a letter, “We have recently had such an avalanche of love, friendship & kindness in the way of letters, including” dear Eliza’s that we must endeavor to make some acknowledgement and the best amends we can for the past. (We received 10 letters in one budget—trust such a feast is not the prelude to a famine.)

In the first place I must discourse upon having passed through Columbus without stopping. I can assure you it was due with much grief and tearfulness for beside the delight it would ever give us to hold converse with those so dear, we very greatly felt the need of your hospitality to refresh—sick & weary as we were just them. But there seemed difficulties about getting to your house which I hardly knew how to surmount and we had reason to believe that Henry might be in waiting for us at St. Louis and to fear that delay might cause us to miss him. It seemed as if poor little Willie’s heart would break at the thought of not stopping. But finally we all concluded we must hasten on to Papa. Presuming that when H. H. called at father’s, they showed him my circular letter, I will not dwell upon the journey but only say that I think we were favored in regard to the time for very soon afterwards the beautiful boat in which we ascended the Missouri—and quite a number of others—have been destroyed owing to the river being very low. Quite a number of lives and much baggage were lost.

And now you want to know how we have been since we came here. Well, poorly enough. Henry had descanted much upon the genial climate of Kansas. Consequently I was much surprised and disappointed on arriving here to find it bleak and chilly, very wet and muddy—and then extremely cold till within a few weeks since which it has been delightful. People say we are now having the regular Kansas winter. While it was so unpleasant, we were sadly exposed to the weather, our cabin being leaky, and it seemed a great while we were without comfortable beds and bedding. During these hardships we all contracted severe colds. Sarah & Sammy had turns of fever. Henry was confined to bed. Harry scalded his foot badly and took cold in it so that it became a tedious and serious matter. Harry and Lizzie had much toothache, sore throat, neuralgia, cough and weakness, so that I have not only had her to wait upon but been deprived of her very valuable assistance. Willie has been afflicted with distress at nights waking up startled and alarmed.

With regard to Henry and myself, I greatly fear the cough is settled upon us. We have been laboring under it so long and Henry is so entirely imprudent as regards us both. For  instance, when I am perspiring over the wash tub, he will have the door open. Says it is healthy even if it is damp. But I’ll change the theme and tell you that the cornfield has not turned out as valuable as we expected owing to the injury from frost. I fear Henry will not see his money back. And as to the pork, we are disappointed in that too. The price of sausage is 8 cents per pound. The dressed hog in Leavenworth sells at 4 to 5 cents.

We are uncertain as to what we shall do in spring—perhaps rent some land and go to farming. I am loth to inform thee, dear Eliza, that I have not found perfect bliss even in a log cabin. The style suits me but I have had to contend with so much dirt—unfix—and annoyance of many kinds that I have not yet been able to look upon it just as Eden. If we could only be well. I do not know what the future might prove. Comforts are increasing around us. Within a few days, Henry has tacked muslin from log to log under the clapboard roof which greatly improves the looks and adds much to the comfort of our cabin. It keeps out much of the dust and wind & I am in hopes rain & snow. But I am quite sure this way of living would never suit you and very much fear we may never have you for neighbors let what may befall you, though I scarce need say that nothing hardly would delight us more.

We were truly sorry, dear friends, to hear that you have sustained heavy losses. We shall feel quite anxious to receive your promised next letter hoping that things will turn out more favorable that was anticipated.

It was acceptable to hear from the different friends mentioned in Eliza’s letter though the tidings of some was sad. The death of Lucy Karn was not unexpected as thee had mentioned her illness. How is Amanda since? Did she remain with her to the close? I do not want our friends to forget us though I cannot name messages just now—only to Sarah Riley, Bessie & the children. I feel weary and worn out. Have been sustained with port wine so as to be able to fill this sheet. My cough seems so exhausting. Hannibal’s visit at Father’s was very acceptable to me. I am very sorry we have not been able to write to you sooner. Thank you for all your kindnesses. Hope you will forgive us for not stopping at Columbus and write very soon and ever believe us your sincerely affectionate friends, — Henry & Elizabeth

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