Ruth Townsend Lewis

Written by her daughter, Elma Gordon Vore
Sept. 1928

Ninety two years ago, on the 20th of November 1836 near the little village of Fredericktown, Ohio, to the House of Townsend, a baby girl was born. It is not likely that this event caused any great excitement for babies were no novelty in that family, this being the twelfth time such an occurrence had happened to Thomas Townsend, though only the eighth to the present wife, Ruth Mosher Townsend. Nor were these twelve the only babies in that family circle, for the older ones had already established homes of their own, and were obeying the injunction to "Be fruitful and multiply," therefore the little Ruth, as she was named for her mother, found herself an "Aunt" as soon as she opened her eyes on this world. No, it is hardly likely that one more baby caused much of a stir, when she appeared amongst them.

However fate very soon began to take a hand in the affairs of the little Ruth. When she was only a few days old, a dear friend of her mother's named Hannah Lewis, with her young son William came over to pay their respects to the newcomer. Now it is not at all probable that the fond mothers actually betrothed their offspring, but there is an authentic tradition that the babies were rocked in the same cradle, and the mothers talked of the possibility of their marriage at some future day. Four years later a little sister Letitia was born to be a companion to little Ruth. Ruth was always a frail, sensitive child, and when at the age of eleven her mother died, an added seriousness was given to her nature. She and her little sister Lettie were left to the care of the older sisters, and they one by one went to homes of their own. The family finally consisted of the father, now grown old and feeble and very deaf, Mary, Thomas, Ruth, and Letitia.

Between Ruth and Thomas existed a tie different from any other tie on earth, of an older brother for a sister next in line. Not every one has this relationship, but those who have will understand what it meant to Ruth when Thomas decided to take a trip to California. At that time a trip to California meant more than a trip to Borneo does today, and his eagerly looked for letters were the outstanding event of the time for those who remained at home.

One day they received a letter in which he told of expecting to start the next day on a bear hunting expedition. Days passed, weeks, then months and no word from the traveler: six months and anxiety had almost grown into certainty that he had been killed on that bear hunting trip. When one day, Oh joy of joys! he suddenly appeared without warning. Having started for home shortly after his last letter, and going around the Horn, had no way to send a letter, much less telephone or telegraph. On his way home he stopped at the West Indies. I yet have a little shell, the only thing left of the many trinkets he brought to his sister Ruth.

After her father died, Ruth took a trip to Cedar Co., Iowa, where she spent some months visiting relatives and teaching. With some of the money left her from her father's estate she bought one of the earliest sewing machines, and learned the tailor's trade. In the spring of 1861 she returned to Ohio and in the Friends meeting house according to Friends ceremony took part in the wedding so fondly prognosticated twenty four years before. She was dressed in a brown silk dress, made with a tight waist, and full skirt, just touching the ground, white silk shawl, and plain bonnet of brown silk. Then the dinner was served in the meeting house, made her children's mouths water to hear her tell of it. There was one story in connection with the dinner which she never told. There was a young kinsman of hers who had a flock of turkeys. Some one induced him to contribute a turkey for the feast, telling him he would get an invitation to the wedding if he would. This he cheerfully did, but afterwards realized that he would have been invited just the same if he hadn't, as everyone was invited. This same young kinsman afterwards became a famous poultryman of Pasadena, Calif. but sixty five years afterwards he was still bewailing very seriously.

The young couple settled on a farm in Logan Co. Ohio, where they lived for two years and a half, and where their first baby boy Francis Thomas, was born. (There is a letter somewhere in existence, which Ruth wrote to her mother-in-law Hannah Lewis, telling what a sweet and smart and perfect baby he was.) After they had lived there a couple of years or so, they began to get restless and discontented for they were both handicapped by that defect in vision which causes distant fields to appear a vivid green. The farther off they were the greener they looked. Minnesota had just come into prominence by lands being thrown open to settlement. Minnesota seemed very far from Ohio, and verily the fields looked very green. Disposing of all their belongings, both real and personal, except what could be loaded in a covered wagon, and in company with some cousins, John and Jennie Chambers, and son Elmer, aged three weeks, who were driving to Indiana, they started out.

It was the fall of the year, the weather was pleasant, they were young, they were in congenial company, they had rosy dreams of the future, therefore the journey must have been very pleasant and interesting; let us hope so, as that was the only pleasure or profit in the whole heartbreaking Minnesota experience, for when they arrived at their destination they found that the green fields like the end of the rainbow had receded as fast as they had traveled.

A few stories of that awful year and a half have been handed down to their children. One was the story of their first night. They moved into a one roomed house with a loft overhead. By this time the weather was very cold; they built up a big fire and got supper, and being very travel worn and weary, retired and were soon sleeping the sleep of the just. About midnight they were awakened by an unearthly, deafening and indefinable noise. There had been an Indian uprising that fall and Ruth said her first thought was that the Indians had been using that house for a sleeping place and coming back and finding it occupied had become so enraged they had climbed up in the loft and were beating on the stovepipe; she asked William what it was, he said he guessed it was the stovepipe cooling off, after such a hot fire. She knew it wasn't but didn't say anything. Pretty soon she noticed he was listening and wondering what it was, and then she was scared. They did not find out what it was till the next morning, when they looked out and saw that the horses had kicked the shed in which they were stabled, literally to kindling wood.

Another story Ruth told was of a night when a neighbor woman came over to stay with her when William was off-land looking. They must have moved into another house, for there was a lean-to kitchen. They had gone to bed when they heard a terrifying racket in the kitchen. Ruth thought she would rather see what it was than be in suspense, she opened the door and what do you think she saw? A neighbor's big white cow had in some way broken open the door, and was clear in the kitchen playing havoc with the pots, pans and dishes.

Well, William found no land that he wanted, or could get, it was a cold, dreary winter. Ruth was sick most of the time, and to "cap the climax" of their cares and worries, the stork played a very scurvy trick on them and dropped the puniest, sickliest, wailing girl baby it could find at their door. They found that their work was cut out for them. She didn't like this world, and she wasn't going to stay, and she wasn't going to stay, and for a year or more they thought she was going to have her way. (I never heard of any letters being written telling what a nice baby she was.) That was I, Elma, and I have been told that I did live after all and "growed finely"! After this I will say father and mother instead of William and Ruth. Besides things being so unpleasant in Minnesota, there was much sickness among the relatives back in Ohio, which was another great anxiety. Mother said she got so she just dreaded to get a letter, for each one told of the death of some dear one.

Mother's health failed completely, and father saw that he must get her away from there and near some of her folks. The spring of 65 he put mother and Frank and me on the steamboat and we came down the Mississippi to Cedar Co. Iowa where many of her relatives lived. There is always some kind person to help a mother traveling alone with little children. In this case it was a soldier's young wife traveling to meet her husband, who had served through the Civil War, and was just being discharged from the army. She took entire charge of me, carrying me in her arms and walking up and down singing. One of the songs which Mother used to sing afterwards was, "And we'll all feel gay when Johnnie comes marching home." It was fortunate for mother that Frankie, who ran all over the boat wanting to see everything, and calling to mother "What iss," "What att," and she had to be on the continual watch to keep him out of mischief.

Father and uncle John Lewis, who had gone up to Minnesota to see if he could help in any way, drove down across the country. I do not know how long they stayed in Cedar Co., but in the fall or early winter, father secured a school at Hartland, and they moved into a little house there. He had taught only a month or so when he came down with a violent attack of lung fever as it was called then, I suppose it was what is now called double pneumonia.

Mother often had prophetic visions, and she said that when he was first taken sick she had the assurance that although he was going to be very sick he was going to recover, and through all that dreadful three months her faith never wavered but once and then only for a few minutes. One night every one told her that he could not possibly live till morning; for a little while she thought perhaps they were right. He did finally recover, but not for a year or more.

They then bought 5 acres, at $20 and acre, five miles north of Marshalltown, put up a story and a half house 16-24, planted an orchard and put in a nursery stock. Mother's sewing machine came in good play there. Her health had improved and she sewed for the neighbors. She also taught a private school in our little house. My earliest recollection is of running around among the pupils and having them grab at me.

I think no one ever loved her relatives more than mother did. There was a little hill in the road about a quarter of a mile south of us; she used to watch that road and often would say, "Oh children here comes a carriage, maybe it is some of our relations." Sometimes it was, and then how happy she was. I can remember several times when relatives visited us. Uncle Thomas, aunt Mary and Emma one time, Catha stayed at home with her grandmother, much to my disappointment for we had (and we have it yet) such a pretty baby picture of her. At another time Griffith Barnes and his wife Elma (he gave me a ten cent "Shinplaster" because I was named Elma) Ruth Ann Vore, young, pretty, and vivacious. Her visit has been a pleasant memory all the rest of my life. Uncle Asa, Aunt Elizabeth, and Mary Ellen and Henry when whey first moved out from Ohio. Of course there were many others but I can not enumerate them all.

We lived in that place seven years, and four boys were born there; Arthur W., John Ellis, James Edward, and Henry Townsend. Mother thought that with so many boys, they ought to have more land, and having a chance to trade the five acres for eighty acres in Story Co., they did so. That sounds pretty good to trade five acres for eighty, but it wasn't quite as good as it sounds, for there was a house, a young orchard just coming into bearing, a good well, school, church, good neighbors, and town near the five acres and nothing but raw prairie on the eighty. There were five acres in the northwest corner broken, and that was all the improvements. The nearest neighbor was a mile away, and a young couple named Brenner, with only one young child had moved in. Five children were required to keep up the school. There were four of us counting Ellis who was only four. Mr. Brenner got his young brother to come and stay with them, that made the required number, and father was hired to teach that winter, as there was no house on our place we were intending to live in the schoolhouse till spring.

When little Henry was less than a year old we move there, and when we arrived we found that it was against the law for a family to live in a school-house while there was school. What to do we didn't know, but Brenner had four small rooms, and they told us we could have two of them. Seven of us lived in two very small rooms that winter, and were very thankful for the shelter. There were really eight of us, but when grandmother's folks heard in what close quarters we were living they came out and took James, aged two and kept him that winter. Mother would come down and visit the school sometimes, especially on "speaking" days and would speak pieces with the rest of us. Two that I remember were "Isabella of Austria" by Whittier, and the "Hebrew Mother." I would like to get hold of a copy of that. I do not know the author, and never saw or heard of it any where else. It was about the mother of Moses, and began thus,

"In Judah's hall the harp is hushed
     Her voice is but the voice of pain
The heathen's heel her helm hath crushed
     Her spirit wears the heathen's chain.

When school was out we moved into the school house while father was putting up a rude shack on the farm for us to live in that summer. It had no floor and the roof leaked like a sieve, but fortunately for us that was a dry summer, a very unusual thing for Story Co. We were not particularly uncomfortable and had a good deal of pleasure.

Little Henry was the joy of the home and was the prettiest, smartest and best baby that ever came into our home. I used to say to mother, we don't need a nice house and pretty pictures and fine furniture as long as we have little Henry do we? Father taught the school again that summer and the two next younger brothers and I went to school. Little Henry would sit in the rocking chair all day without a whimper but about four o'clock he would begin to look for me, for he knew I would take him out to see the birds and flowers which he dearly loved. He would nearly go wild with happiness over them, especially the sand hill cranes as they flew over in great long lines; he wanted to be up there with them.

Father planted corn in the five acres which was already broken. It was very low ground and I might incidentally say that was the only good crop that was ever raised on that field as long as we lived there on account of its being so wet, but that being such a dry year the corn did well. One day when the ears had begun to fill out about right for roasting ears, we were standing out in the yard, mother was holding little Henry in her arms, when we looked out towards the corn field and saw a herd of five hundred corn crazed cattle, with tails up and bellowing, madly charging down on our precious patch of corn, Mother said "Here Elma take the baby I want to go and drive those cattle back," I would not take him at first, for I was afraid she would get trampled on. I said "Why, mother thee could no more turn those cattle than thee could the wind," but she insisted, finally I took him, for I decided that she would not go near enough to get hurt. She took a corn stalk or lath I forget which and started forth, looking like David going out to slay the giant, but alas, it was not so successful as David's raid, and when the herd boys who had been gathering gum from the compas plants (a species of sun flower) which grew in great profusion on the prairies remembered their business and finally succeeded in driving the cattle out, our pretty cornfield was a thing of the past.

I think I said that we had no well when we first got the place, Father dug a shallow well in a hollow and got good water, but it was a long ways from the house. He began one near the shack and dug down about sixteen feet, quite large in diameter, with no signs of water, then in the middle of that he dug down still deeper, a smaller hole, and still no water, but it was damp and cool, and having no cellar we kept our milk down there. We had a large bucket made of half a barrel, with a windlass to draw it up and down. We would set the crock of milk in the bucket, put on the lid and carefully lower it.

One day father was going to the coal bank, for a load of coal; the coal bank was in Boone Co. It took two days, and two or more of the neighbors almost always went together. This time our next to nearest neighbor, Charley Graves was going with father. Now this Charley Graves was what is called a practical joker, and as is usually the case, most of his jokes were not funny to any one but himself. This day they were going to start right after dinner, but when father was ready to start Charlie had not shown up, and father thought he would start and go slowly and let him catch up with him. Mother and we children went a piece with him and walked back; on the way home we met Charley. We asked him if he saw our new well: he said "Yes he looked down in it." As we had had a good dinner we were just going to have bread and milk for supper. When we were ready for supper we carefully hauled up the bucket, took off the lid, and lo, and behold the crock was empty and wiped as dry as if it had never seen a drop of milk. We looked down in the well and in the bottom of the deeper hole was the milk. We ate our bread dry that night. That was one practical joke we never could see the fun in.

In the late summer or early fall, a great shadow fell over our home. Little Henry our joy and pride became ill, and for two weeks he hovered between life and death. We had no chickens that summer and mother was wishing so desperately for a chicken to make him some broth. One day I went out to the haystack and was praying in my childish way to be shown some way to get one, and while I was praying I heard a whirring and looking around saw a prairie chicken come sailing down and run into a hole in the haystack. I reached in and caught it and took it into mother who made some broth. However, God had something better for little Henry, and when he was eleven months and three days old his little soul took its flight to fairer land and sweeter flowers.

We were far from church and town. A neighbor four miles away, made him a little casket and we laid him away on a little hillside on the farm. The day he died mother received a letter from her dearly beloved brother who was then in Texas. It had come in a roundabout way and had been three weeks on the road. With tears streaming down her face she said "Dear Thomas he little knows what we are going through." I thought, but did not say it "No nor do we know what he is going through." Shortly after that we received word that he had died two days before little Henry did. It was a lonely fall and winter after that. Cold winter was coming on, and we were still living in the shack. We were putting up a small house 16/16, one room down stairs and one up. Father and one carpenter were working hard to get it finished, for the shack was no protection against the cold. One Saturday night they worked as long as they could see, and were very happy to think that the frame work was all up and they would be ready to go to work on the siding on Monday morning. We were eating supper by lamplight, and while we were eating a storm came up, a terrific storm of wind and thunder, lightning, hail and rain. Mother put the children on the bed and covered them with bedclothes to protect them as much as possible from the elements. Father and the carpenter braced themselves against the south wall, the direction the wind was coming from, to try to keep the frail building from collapsing. Mother would look out at the new house during the lightning flashes and report "It's still standing," till once when she looked she said "It's gone." Finally the storm had spent itself, and the shack was still standing, but examination showed that the frame work of the new house had been twisted as a giant hand might wring a towel, and every studding was snapped in two. The carpenter said he would go around among the neighbors the next morning and get as many as he could to help. There was quite a turnout of men, and one woman came to help get dinner. They worked to such good advantage that on Monday morning the house was much farther along than when they left off Saturday night. We moved in, that week, and just in time, for that night the weather turned very much colder and we would have suffered in the shack. One thing that made a bright spot that winter was a big bundle that came from West Branch. Perhaps some who contributed to that bundle will read this, at least children and children's children of those who did will, and I want them to know that the contents of that bundle kept us warm in body and spirit for many a day.

Father taught the school again that winter, and we all went to school but mother and James. We had but few recreations, but I remember once when we all bundled up and went in the sled five miles to the "Wickman" school house to a spelling school, and how the people laughed to see the "babies" come to a spelling school, but they laughed harder when those same babies out spelled some of the grown ones. When they spelled down, father, mother and Frank were finally the only ones left standing, then father missed Ebenezer and mother spelled it. I can remember yet the thrill it gave me to think mother spelled the school down. That night going home in the moonlight three coyotes followed the sled for quite a ways, which gave us another thrill.

The next summer mother taught the school and I, aged eleven kept the house and took care of James. That fall Asa was born, and helped to fill the vacancy little Henry's going had left. Two years afterward Newman Hall was born. When we first moved out to Story Co. it seemed as we had moved to the ends of the earth, where no relative could find us, but one evening, it must have been the third summer we were living there, a buggy containing a man and two women drove into the yard, and the man came to the door and asked if there would be any chance to stay all night. Mother began to make excuses, saying we were not fixed so we could make them comfortable, when he began to laugh and called out to the woman "She don't know me." Mother cried out "Joe Wright, yes you can stay." It was Joe Wright and his eighteen year old bride Mary, who was mother's niece, and another niece of mother's, Mary Ellen Pearson.

When we had been there about seven years a railroad was run through that part of the country, and the little town of McCallsbury was located about a mile from our place. Another town a little larger, called Zearing was built about six miles away. After that we had visits from several of our friends and relatives.

When Newman was about one year old, mother's health broke down and for three years she was almost an invalid. During that time she spent a winter at Uncle Asa Townsend's at LeGrand, and one at West Branch with her sisters Elizabeth and Esther, and brothers William and James. She grew better and for a few years had comparatively good health.

I wish I could sing some of the songs mother did. She did not have a strong singing voice, and was not a public singer, but as she sang to the babies I used to wonder if there was anywhere so sweet a voice. She had quite a repertoire of favorite songs but her very favorite was:

"Have you heard, have you heard, of that Sunbright Clime."
Another began:
There is a spot to me more dear, than native vale or mountain
      A spot at which affection's tear, springs grateful from its fountain
Tis not where kindred souls do dwell -- though that were almost heaven
      But where I first my Savior found, and felt my sins forgiven.

A few others were, "Rain on the Roof," "James Bird," "Hush my Babe," "Lie still and Slumber," "Sweet Bird," "The Dying Girl," Fly away to my Native Land." She was very fond of poetry and subscribed for a little magazine, called "Gems of Poetry." It was only published a few years, but I think she took it as long as it was published, and it was a great joy to all of us.

It was while we were living in Story Co. that the Townsend letter had its birth. At that time there were seven brothers and sisters in the Townsend family. That letter was one of the joys of mother's life. In the spring of 1888 she was stricken with an insidious malady for which there has been found no remedy, and six months after we first knew of it, we laid her body away in the cemetery at Zearing, either on or very near her 52nd birthday. Afterwards we moved little Henry's casket from the hillside on the farm and placed it by her side.

"Say not that she is dead; It is not Death
     To pass from out this suffering and strife
Into the peace and calm which lie beyond
    The Western hills -- out into life."