Sunday, July 17, 2011

Young James West Wilson

James West Wilson was born in new London, Connecticut, soon after his parents arrived in this country from Scotland.  By the time he was 7 yrs. old his father had made the decision to settle in Iowa and in 1856 the family came to Iowa by wagon.  It was a hard journey but for a 7 yr old boy it was quite an adventure.  Within the next few years many of his Aunts and Uncles and Cousins had made the journey from Scotland to Iowa. West Wilson’s farm was in the center of the Scottish settlement at the intersection of well traveled main roads, in plain view of Tranquillity church.  The children knew the teams of everyone around and could keep track of the comings and goings of relatives and neighbors.

The children learned to herd cattle.  It was their job to keep the cattle away from unfenced crops.  Without doubt, all the children of that day had their turn at this wearisome,  never ending task.  While the cattle contentedly grazed, the children whiled away the long hours picking the friendly Johnny-jump-ups, wild crab apple blossoms, yellow buttercups, and red lilies; curling the  dandelion stems; gathering gum from the rosin weed; and making daisy chains.

Home in Iowa where James grew up.

They marked the nests of the quail, prairie chickens, and wild turkeys; played with young rabbits; watched ground squirrels, even crows and hawks; listened to the whistling notes of the meadow lark and the bobolink; found a chipmunk, sometimes a muskrat, or a beaver near the creek; avoided the skunks – and with it all kept their eyes on the cows.  James’ brother, Henry Lusk, tells this story, “In the early days, men all told snake stories.  As the age of the narrator increased, likewise did the size of the snakes.  A herder of twelve years, I never saw a snake that would measure seven feet.  My sister, Janet killed one seven  feet long but I did not see it.  She killed it with a gum weed, no sticks on the prairie.”

The young herders had many wolf stories.  Most of them were about the first severe winters the North Tama settlers spent in Iowa, when the wolves were desperate for food because of the deep snow.  They gathered in large droves, howled constantly, prowled around the buildings so that it was unsafe to step outside a cabin door after dark.  One settler, looking out over a howling pack, seized a rifle, raised a window enough to take aim and shot a wolf, thinking it would frighten the others away; but the rest of the wolves, wild at the scent of blood, fell upon the carcass in a frenzy “and literally rent it to pieces, devouring everything but the tail and skull.  Then another wolf was shot.  This slaughter continued until the appetites of the wolves were appeased and the survivors retreated to their dens.  In about a week the pack would be back for another feast and the shooting was repeated.  This kept up until the snow disappeared.”
When James was 11 yrs. old, his mother, Margaret Drynan Wilson died, leaving nine children.  His older sister, Janet, was only 14 yrs. old, next were twin sisters, Margaret and Jane, who were 12 yrs. old, then James West,  Agnes, 8 yrs. old, Catherine, 6 yrs. old, William Drynan, 4 yrs. old, Henry Lusk, 2 yrs. old and the baby, Grace who had been born 2 months before their mother died.  Grace only lived three years.  It was during this time that  their Aunt Margaret would come over to watch over the children.  Many times, during the winter months, she would have the children stay in bed to keep warm.  After the death of baby Grace, West began to write back to Scotland to a girl he had known years before.  It wasn’t long before they decided to get married and Barbara Kennedy boarded the ship bound for America. 

Sources for this story:   "They Came to North Tama" by Murray and "My Pioneer Wilson Story" by Dalton K. Wilson

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