Harrison writes Henry in early 1859. This letter contains a lot of interesting little clues about life in 1859, and one really big one. Harrison mentions that their seventy-year old mother, Achsah, is busy churning seven pounds of butter a week from her cow. He describes the situation on his farm and his brothers’, and he gives Henry a little news and gossip about local people.
The big news, however, is that Lemuel and many others are talking about going west to join the new gold rush in Kansas. As odd as it sounds, ten years after the California Gold Rush, the Kansas Territory in 1859 was the hot new place to make your fortune. This is because the territory of Kansas was much larger than the state it became in 1861. The Kansas and Nebraska territories established in 1854 extended to the Continental Divide and included Pikes Peak and much of what is now Colorado and Wyoming.
Kansas in the 1850s is usually remembered as “Bleeding Kansas,” a battleground where the issue of whether to extend slavery into the new western states was fought in a savage war along the Missouri border. For the most part, we’ve forgotten that in 1859, both Kansas and Nebraska were part of The West in a way they no longer are. I’ve written a little more about this here.
Hillsdale Jan 16th /59
Yours of the 10th came to hand last night. We are enjoying usual good health this winter. LGs and Ansons people are well, also Lucius family. Mother is making seven lbs Butter per week from her cow this winter. You saw this cow probably when you were here. We have not heard anything from R. Densmores folks for some time past. Are looking for them out here this winter. Lem is not doing anything this winter, but thinks or talks of going to Pikes Peak in the spring.
There is quite an excitement here about the gold in Kansas. There are more than two hundred persons in this county say they are going to Pikes Peak next season. I do not suppose there will be more than half that number go. I heard Lucius speaking about your sending Anson some fifty dollars last fall. I asked him some two months since if he had written you to let you know that the money was recd. He said not but would write you in a few days. That is the last I had heard or thought of it until I read your letter last night. He said the money came so thats all right.
We have had quite an open winter thus far. No cold weather to speak of. Have had only about ten days of sleighing the fore part of Dec or last of Nov. We milk two cows & make butter to sell this winter & keep two fine hogs & one span of horses. We will probably milk 3 or 4 cows next summer. Our wheat looks well. We have on the ground eighteen acres, ten acres new ground & eight of corn ground, all of which we put in before the fourth of September last. Our new ground we broke up in June and cross plowed in August. So you can judge from that we expect a good crop of wheat if the season is favorable.
I intend to plant some ten or twelve acres of corn in the spring and sow four or five to millet. We raised eight acres of corn last summer and fatted six hogs. Ours were larger than your Pig. But not so large according to the age. One of ours weighed 420 lbs, the others were not so heavy.
I paid Rowlson for the Standard for one year in advance to be sent to you. I think it was about one year ago now. He may perhaps keep on sending it after the year is up. I know there is not much in it but advertisements. Still I thought perhaps you might like to see what was a going on out here if it was not much, as we did not write you very often, and that you might see something in the paper that would interest you. Therefore if you would like to read it another year, just let me know and I will have it sent to you. All it will cost you will be the postage.
I recd a Greenfield newspaper from you last week. We have not heard from Harry Lawrence nor have we seen any of the St. Jo people down here. Lem is not married, nor have Lucius folks any children. But Fox and his wife have had another fight! He has sold off everything but the House Hold Goods and wanted to give his wife one third of the farm. But she would not divide the property that way. Consequently he lets her and the Boys remain on the land while he goes to Kansas. He sold two horses, harness, wagon, two plows, one drag for two hundred twenty five dollars on two years time. Lucius bought his sheep. Fox says he goes dish time certain. But folks think they will make up again as usual.
The last we heard from Frank he was trying to get in Deputy Sheriff under Wm Hildreth. Have not heard from him direct since last fall. L.G. Saw Powell Lound at Coldwater in the fall. He said he would sell his place for thirty dollars per acre. And that other place was about five dollars per acre cheaper than when you were out there. About here it is Hurah for Mo or Kansas, don’t care much which.
It is dinner time and I must stop blowing. Helen joins in sending Love to all.
H. J. Ranney
Harrison writes to Henry in late 1855, acknowledging receipt of a draft for payment on a shipment of peppermint oil. The oil went to Henry’s brother-in-law, George C. Goodwin who is a merchant in Boston. When Henry lived in Boston, he and Goodwin had been partners. Harrison says he went to some effort to find the best and purest oil for Goodwin, and he’s pleased that his efforts were appreciated.
Since Harrison and Lemuel have both recently returned to Michigan, they are considering going in together on a farm or business. Harrison has been a merchant in Tahlequah, so he thinks a clothing store might be profitable. There is a shop in Quincy, where Lewis lives, where a tailor cuts custom clothing and then pays local women to sew it. But he can’t keep up with demand, so Harrison thinks ready-made clothing from Boston or New York might be a profitable venture. He asks Henry to refer him to a manufacturer who might offer them credit or send them goods to sell on commission for the first year, because he and Lemuel would like to reserve their capital to speculate in land.
Anson has returned from his father-in-law’s and is preparing to teach school. Priscilla is visiting and says she would like to see Achsah, who apparently did not return to Michigan with Anson and Lemuel earlier in the fall. Harrison closes his letter with an apology for his poor handwriting. He has been husking corn at Lewis’s place so long, he says, his fingers are “like sticks.”
Nov 18th /55
I recd your letter containing the draft two or three days since and am glad Goodwin is satisfied with the oil, for I took some extra care to get that which was good and pure. Lem & I are at Lewis now for a few days assisting him about husking out his corn. He has very good crop this year. Priscilla came out here some ten days since on a visit. Will remain here some ten days longer. Her health is good, she is quite fleshy. She, Lucius & Wife came up here to Lewis on a visit yesterday & have just started for home. Anson commences teaching school tomorrow at the Red School House situated across the road from his farm.
Leml and I have not bought a place yet. We do not know what business to go into. Sometimes we think of going into the Clothing Business as there is a good opening for that type of business at Quincy. If we could get ready made clothing and cloths from New York or Boston to sell on commission for the first year we would do so as we would like to use our money for the purposes of buying unimproved land or lands with small improvements on them near here. Such purchases are a good investment as land is rising fast.
If you think we could get cloths and clothing in some of those places to sell on commission or we would advance some money on them if we could not get them without doing so, I say if you think we could get a stock of say about fifteen hundred dollars worth or two thousand, we would like to have you write to us what you thought about our getting them.
Quincy is growing rapidly, quite a good place for trade. There is one clothing store in the place. Lewis Wife and Sister are sewing for them. The establishment employs one man to cut out clothing constantly for custom work, and he cannot cut fast enough. There is a good opening I think for Lem and myself to go into business. We have talked with men of our acquaintance who are doing the same business in Hillsdale and they advise us to go into the Ready Made Clothing Business at Quincy. I have I think quite a good knowledge of the business and from what experience I have had in it, it is a very pretty and profitable employment.
The reason why I write to you about it is this. We thought perhaps you might probably be acquainted with some Firm where we could get a stock on such terms as we propose.
Priscilla says she would like to see Mother very much. That is the case with all of us. I suppose she will come out here in the spring. Please excuse bad writing for I have been husking corn so long that my fingers are like sticks. Write soon.
Harrison J. Ranney
This is a letter from Harrison Jackson Ranney to Anson Bement Ranney. It found its way into Henry’s collection because Anson was visiting Ashfield when he received it. Harrison wrote to his brother in late August, 1855, when he finally returned from Tahlequah in the Cherokee Nation. He had been planning to go to Phelps and Ashfield with his brothers, but he didn’t return soon enough. He also missed his brother Anson’s marriage to Caroline Baggerly on August 15th. Caroline (“Callie”) was born in Phelps, so Harrison is curious whether she stayed there with relatives or went with Lemuel and Anson to Ashfield.
Harrison, who worked as a merchant out west for several years, has decided to make a thousand dollars buying and selling Michigan peppermint oil. He arrived too late to have planted any of his own, so he would be thinking of buying from neighboring farmers, and taking the oil to a market where he could make a profit on it. Harrison wants Anson to find out prices in Ashfield and Boston; he is also considering Louisville and St. Louis, which illustrates the large market for Michigan oil in the 1850s.
Harrison mentions that John Baggerly, Callie’s father, is ill. He appears to be staying with the Baggerlys, possibly because Lewis is visiting Lucius. Harrison urges them to write, and to come home soon, so he can see them and their Mother, who he expects to return with them from her long stay our East.
Illustration is “Uncle Jesse,” from the Middletown Upper Houses. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find images of any of the brothers except Henry.
South Allen Mich
August 25th /55
I arrived here on the Saturday after you left. Was sorry I did not see you & Lem before you started. I recd your last letter on the night before I left Tah-le-quah. You said in your letter Lem & you would start for Phelps about the fifteenth of this month and go down to Henry’s. I had intended to have got home in time to have gone with you to Ashfield. But you was a little too soon for me.
I wish you to ask Henry if I could dispose of any Oil Peppermint and how much and at what price, for if I could sell two, three, or four hundred pounds of oil down there somewhere I would go down sometime this fall. Oil is worth about three dollars per lb in Florence this fall. Could I get four in Ashfield of Boston? I am expecting a letter from Louisville telling me how much oil I can sell there and at what price. I may perhaps do something in that business this fall if all things are favorable.
You & Lem I hope will be making yourselves back this way ere long. John’s folks have just recd a letter you wrote them the day after you got to Frank’s. My kind regards to all friends. Write soon after you get this. Why cannot Henry come out here this fall?
H. J. Ranney
[On reverse page]
John Baggerly was taken with a kind of fever last night. He is up here today on the bed. Thinks he is going to have the fever & ague. Got the blues some.
Has Callie gone to Ashfield with you? I tell our folks if she don’t go with you that you will not enjoy yourself much.
What do you think of the folks down there? Clarissa said you wanted to see what kind of relatives you had. How is Uncle Jesse?
Lem, take care of Ans & (???) Rather new potatoes to take to market.
Anson, you be certain to find out about the Oil Peppermint. I want to make One Thousand dollars this fall. I may go to St. Louis with one lot of oil. It is worth four dollars there.
The reason I write so much stuff, Lewis & Lucius are talking and I do not care about listening to them.
Come home soon. I want to see Mother & Lem & Callie. Jane was over to JB’s as soon as she found I had got home.