Sunday, July 24, 2011

James and the Railroad

Several years ago, my cousin, Marcia Loomis, found some notes that her father, James West Wilson, Jr., had in his effects.  He was one of three deaf boys who were the sons of James West Wilson.  When one of them had asked about what happened when he left Iowa, this is what he wrote:

He left home in Traer, Iowa in 1872 at the age of 22 and went to work for the Northern Pacific Railroad for three years.  While working for the railroad he was paid a wage of  $1.50 per day for one year; then $2.00 a day and then $4.00 a day.  He paid $4.50 a week for board and slept in a bunkhouse with hay as a mattress.  He often went to the tramp jungle (Railroad tramps who rode the rails).  At the tramp jungle, each tramp had his turn getting food for his fellow tramps, no matter where or how.  Many had to beg for food but the food was shared with all.  When it became James turn, he went to a restaurant and had a good breakfast of ham and eggs; then asked the waitress for the leftover garbage from the other tables to take over to the fellows at the tramp jungle.  The other fellows were amazed at how he could have gotten such good food, but he never told them how he did it.  The other railroad workers would blow their pay in bars while he saved and saved.  He never told anyone he was saving; otherwise he would have been robbed or killed.When he finally saved $1000, he moved to Missoula, Montana and started a business selling agricultural implements, wagons, plows, all kinds of machines, etc.  This he did for 15 years.  In 1887 he invested in real estate, houses for rentals and lots.

At the age of 42, James met a lovely young woman, Josephine Grant Prescott.  She was only 22 but they fell in love and were married.  When James was asked why he hadn’t married before that he said he hadn’t met anyone he wanted to marry. until then.

Wilson, James West
b. Aug. 24, 1849 d. Nov. 16, 1930 

Wilson, Josephine Grant Prescott
b. Aug. 9, 1868 d. Mar. 27, 1910 

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

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Sunday at Tranquility Church

Our Scottish ancestors settled all around Tranquility Church which was southwest and west of  Buckingham Village.  The old church sits there to the east of Squire Wilson’s farm.  To me it seemed as if it had been there all the time, but it wasn’t.  It was built in 1874. .  My folks and all my uncles and aunts that were then in the country at that time all went to Tranquility Church.  They were all God worshipping and Sabbath observing people.  They all had the incentive of wanting to be better and do better for themselves as well as for the community.  And I might also say that if there is any good left in any of the rest of us, we would be doing well if we just give the credit to those Scotch Pioneer Presbyterians.
You have heard some people say that one person is just as good as another, but you can get up on a Sunday morning and you'll see people going to or coming from church, and you'll see people taking other ways of what they consider proper observance of the day, and you will see people not taking any observance of anything.  I you would then hear some one say that one person is just as good as another, you would be inclined to think they were pretty much wrong about that.  On the general face of things we can see that there are lots of people that are lots better than a lot of others.  The incentive of some people to try to be better and try to do things better than others, is what makes our progress.  If there are those that have that incentive more than we have, while they go ahead trying to do better and make things better for themselves, they are also making things better for  us too. 
It was common occurrence that after church was out some or other of those Uncles and Aunts would stop off at our house for dinner.  Those little visits were intensely enjoyable to those people.  Sometimes someone would have just received a letter from Scotland, or maybe a Scotch paper had been sent to someone, telling of some special neighborhood news.  By the time those things in the paper and letter had been discussed, the afternoon would be well worn away and it would be time to start for home.  The good-byes and the come agains would be said and they would start off on their homeward journey, but the best part of it all was that a kindly spirit of good feeling for each other prevailed.  They didn't have much of the worldly goods in those days.  Such as they had was obtained by common hard work, honest and charitable dealing.  I could illustrate honest and charitable dealings by telling a story.  I heard Father tell this story once.  He told it as a joke.  It might also explain in a way how it come that there didn't any of this pioneer family ever become very rich.
Source:  Dalton K. Wilson, My Story of the Pioneer Wilson Family