I don’t know cold, or what it’s like to experience a truly, deep cold winter. I’ve been neatly tucked away somewhere in the Pacific Northwest most of my life. I haven’t experienced bitter, biting winters next to Lake Superior.
We are pretty spoiled in the garden department as well; what we plant grows by leaps and bounds–probably doesn’t hurt that I am married to a skilled nurseryman–and we enjoy a generous bounty most years.
I don’t know cold; seems, though, it was a way of life for Josiah and Helen. As mentioned in Letter #1, I will highlight in red interesting and/or new pieces of our puzzle, and discuss those below. Due to Josiah’s many run-on sentences, I’ve left spaces between ideas. What follows is what Josiah wrote; each paragraph corresponds to a page.
Ironwood Mich 1889
Dear Father and Mother,
This is Sunday morning here it is very pleasant today but for the last 3 days it has been quite stormy here the last 3 or 4 days in last month and the fore part of this it was very warm here the snow most all went off we hant had only about 2 feet this winter and the thermometer only went to 37 this winter(1) everything is very lively around the mines this spring the prospect is for the largest out put gross/gain (?) this year we have ever had the machinery at some of the mines her would surprise you I never saw as nice Ironwood stands ahead in the mining business the Nora and the Ashland mines are only about 1/2 mile from where we live(2) and they are two of the best on the range….
I hope it will be so you and ma can make us a visit this next summer I think we could surprise you about this country(3) this is no wilderness there are lots of buildings here and in Hurley that don’t take a back seat in any city by the way I don’t know but this is a city by this time we have 5,000 inhabitants here and the mater is before the legislator now(4) Bessemer is a city now that passed this winter I am building a small house here now 16 X 24 the snow is only about a foot deep so it don’t bother much I think there will be a good deal of building done here this season Lew is at work at the mine in H yet Ida hasn’t been very well since the baby was born(5) she has a nice baby. what are potatoes worth with you they are worth 50 cents here at retail some difference from last winter they were worth 100 and 125 bush then…
everything is getting cheaper here than it was when we came here as for potatoes we can raise as good here as anywhere I ever lived and most everything but corn I mean to put in a garden this spring and I want some strawberry plants and raspberries courants slips this spring if you can spare them(6) this be a good place for berries I think for the lower part of my lot is always wet no dry weather ever dries it up(7) and I am going to try and raise some tomatoes and let them ripe if I can we raised lots of grown ones last year but none got ripe what kind do you think I had better put in what are the earliest and what kind of cabbage would you put in have you got lots of tomato seed if so please send me a few….(6)
we are all quite well now but Helen she is feeling quite poorly her stomach troubles her a good deal she can’t eat a meal but what she has pains in her stomach(8) the rest of us have some cold but nothing serious we haven’t had to colds this winter compared with last We are doing the most of our groceries trading at chicago now we can save most half on most stuff on the prices we pay here and we get things by the quantity(9) and it goes a good deal farther we send there and get Ashkosh matches(10) at a cent a box here they ask us 5C for 2 boxes. Well my paper is full and I must close for this time with love to you both Josiah and Helen
1. I think Josiah was referring to a heat wave when he wrote that “the thermometer only went to 37 this winter.” I think he meant as a high reading, not a low, as he wrote “very warm here.” Odd since this 1911 image does not seem altogether abnormal for Ironwood (cowcard.com).
2. This is one of the very best pieces of information I could hope for: a location. That the mines were close “the Nora and Ashland mines are only about 1/2 mile from where we live” is a juicy tidbit. I may be able to figure out within a few homes exactly where they lived.
I do not believe my direct ancestor Josiah worked in the mines; he was a carpenter; however, his brother-in-law, Louis Seeber or “Lew” (who was married to Josiah’s sister Ida), worked in the mines in Hurley, Wisc.
3. We know that Josiah’s father Charles E. Smith was born in England in about 1818 or 1819, and that he was a Reverend. We also know that Charles’s father Samuel Smith was a Methodist minister (and also born in England). I mention it now because I suspect this may have fanned the flames of the family feud. When Josiah wrote about this country, he may have been comparing Michigan to England vs. comparing Michigan to another part of the US.
4. Josiah wrote in this letter that Ironwood was soon to become a city. A search in the history of Ironwood corroborates his account; the year was 1889.
5. I’d been wondering about the family members of Ida and Lewis, if the names Josiah mentioned were part of Ida’s family. The chart tells me this and more. The children of Ida and Lew were: Charles, Myron, Anna, Louis, Daisy, Faith, and Warren. Ida’s baby was Faith Merel Fay Seeber.
6. Josiah asked his father for some strawberry plants, if he could spare some. This indicates Charles and Maria live fairly close by, “so please send me a few.” It suggests that by this year, Charles and Maria lived in the U.S.
7. Gardening took real planning, and spaces were limited and often not overly suitable. Because part of the land was always wet, “the lower part of my lot is always wet no dry weather ever dries it up,” food planning must have been a significant challenge. They used a cellar.
8. While we do know the death year for Helen (1902), it appears she dealt with significant health issues as well “she can’t eat a meal but what she has pains in her stomach.” The family would move fairly soon since her death took place in Minneapolis, three years after Josiah wrote this letter. I do not know the reason the family moved.
9. It sounds like food trading was common, that they had a system similar to our current Costco where we “can save most half on most stuff on the prices we pay here and we get things by the quantity.”
10. I wasn’t sure what I was reading until I searched for matches. It wasn’t Ashkosk as Josiah’s letter reads, it was Oshkosh. Turns out, the plant was in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. At the trading place, they sold for “a cent a box here they ask us 5 c for 2 boxes.” They were mindful of prices, watched sales, and bought in quantity–down to the last match.
Next: Letter #3–Ironwood City, a seven week old baby, and mincemeat.